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The Americans are destroying the English language – or are they?

In 1995 Prince Charles caused a ruckus when he lamented the unchecked spread of American English – and the effect of American usage is one that’s perennially lamented. But is it true? Are Americans really…

Was Prince Charles correct? Are Americans destroying the English language? EPA/Samantha Reinders

In 1995 Prince Charles caused a ruckus when he lamented the unchecked spread of American English – and the effect of American usage is one that’s perennially lamented. But is it true? Are Americans really ruining the English language?

Whose language is it?

First of all, nobody’s ruining the English language.

And for anyone to call it “our” language is repugnantly colonial. Language spreads and language changes.

English is spoken across the globe by more people (as a first, second or foreign language) than any other, and has the third highest number of native speakers (only Mandarin and Spanish having more).

The United Kingdom has only about 15% of the world’s native speakers of English – the USA has almost 60%.

The language has many different and distinct “standard” or “official” varieties (Standard British, Standard American, Standard Australian) and innumerable non-standard varieties and pidgins.

Some of these non-standard varieties are spoken in England (Cockney, Yorkshire Scouse, Brummy) and differ far more from Standard British English than does Standard American. The phonology (sound pattern, including pronunciation) of some prestige varieties of British English, such as the “Upper RP” spoken by some remnants of English nobility, differs greatly from Standard British, so that much of it needs subtitles in order to be understood by speakers of “ordinary” standard Englishes around the world.

The accusations

Let’s suppose for a moment that there was such a thing as “ruining” a language.

The notion of “ruining” implies changing in unacceptable ways. Languages do change – despite all attempts to the contrary, or to constrain their change.

The further implication of “ruin” is that the change is necessarily negative.

Presumably it threatens the capacity of the language to express something – be that complex thought, heightened emotion, refined argument. Or that it somehow threatens the integrity of the speech community, which as we have seen was never integrated in the first place.

What I want to look at here is who is doing the changing – or the ruining, depending on your perspective.

Here are some of the changes of which American English has been accused.

  • corrupt spelling: center, honor, neighbor
  • discordant sounds – post-vocalic /r/, “flat” /a/
  • double negatives
  • ending sentences with prepositions
  • singular they
  • using nouns as verbs.

Let’s look at these one by one.

I’m going to use examples from Shakespeare to illustrate a lot of these, partly because it’s the best-known source of early Modern English, the language we speak today, but also because for many, Shakespeare represents a sort of pinnacle of English language usage.

Shakespeare is not generally considered as someone who would “ruin” the language. On the contrary he is generally regarded – not entirely accurately – as someone who enhanced the expressive force and prestige of English.

Changes to spelling

It is indeed true that Noah Webster, American lexicographer, introduced several spelling reforms in the 1820s into American spelling.

Among these are what are now considered “American spellings” such as honor, neighbor, center, and jail. Other of Webster’s reforms are accepted in British as well as American English, such as public and mask (in place of publick and masque). Some of Webster’s suggested reforms failed to take hold even in America, such as tung (tongue) and wimmen (women).

The curious thing is that it’s only the “or” and “er” words that seem to raise the ire of anti-Americans. The British gaol has given way to jail without a whimper of protest in the UK (it remains in limited use in Ireland and Australia), and no champion of British spelling would use publick or masque today.

Yet the very “or” and “er” words that draw such ire actually represent an older British spelling.

The spelling “honour” is found 393 times in the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (published in 1623), while the spelling “honor” occurs 530 times.

“Humour” scores 47 while “humor” is used 90 times. The spelling “center” is found nine times, while “centre” occurs only once; “sceptre” occurs four times, but “scepter” 36.

Webster chose the “or” and “er” spellings because they looked less French. Indeed the reason that, when British spelling was standardised in the 19th century, the “our” and “re” spellings were chosen was precisely because their French look lent them a certain dignity. In other words, the spellings were deliberately snobby.

Those ugly sounds

Standard American English pronounces /r/ in the coda of a syllable where Standard British English does not. The difference is illustrated in words like car and farther (twice in the latter word).

There are non-standard British varieties, such as West Country or Scots, which still do pronounce post-vocalic /r/, and there are non-standard American varieties, such as Eastern Massachusetts or African-American Vernacular English, which lack it.

More to the point, though, the post-vocalic /r/ as found in Standard American was a part of Middle English, heard by all classes and in all regions, until the 15th century, when it started to disappear in some dialects.

As far as ruining the language is concerned, there could be case made that the loss of /r/ erodes comprehension, with pairs like father/farther, pawn/porn, caught/court and batted/battered merging. Going to the pawnshop has become potentially risky to one’s reputation.

Like the syllable-final /r/, the flat “a” that Americans use in words like bath also represents an older form of the language.

Double negatives

Where would the Rolling Stones be if they had insisted on singing “I can’t get any satisfaction”?

Of course, they were mimicking a blues style associated with African American linguistic behaviour – and they were also making use of a pattern which is found in all varieties of English up to and including early Modern English. From Shakespeare:

Never none shall mistress be of it (Twelfth Night)

I never was nor never will be (Richard III)

Pedants claim that a double negative logically should imply the affirmative, so that “I can’t get no satisfaction” actually means “I can get satisfaction”. But a double negative has never meant this in the unmarked case, and there are many perfectly logical languages which use the double negative as a matter of course in negation.

(Also, the logic applied here would imply that a double positive can never imply a negative. To which I say, yeah right.)

In any case the double negative is a red herring when it comes to making an argument that “Americans are ruining the language.” Double negatives are not accepted in Standard American English any more than they are in Standard British English. When it comes to non-standard varieties, non-standard varieties in the UK are as rife with double negatives as non-standard American Englishes (watch EastEnders if you don’t believe me).

Sentence-final prepositions

We’re often told that a preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.

See?

In fact, this is as common in British as in American English. Would you really say “From whence did you come?” Seriously? “Where did you come from?” is absolutely standard for all varieties of English. This one is just silly.

Singular they

This is often used when wanting to remain ambiguous about the gender of a singular referent, or when the gender is unknown.

For example, if you had just got off the phone I might ask you “What did they want?” This is appropriate even though it’s taken as given that you were speaking to only one person. I’d have to have a pole inserted very far into my sphincter indeed to ask “What did she or he want?”

Furthermore, singular they has a long and illustrious English history.

You guessed it, Shakespeare used it:

There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me / As if I were their well acquainted friend (Comedy of Errors), or

God send everyone their heart’s desire (Much Ado About Nothing).

We can go back in time to find it in Chaucer’s writing:

And whoso fyndeth hym out of swich blame, / They wol come up” (Pardoner’s Prologue).

Or we can come forward and find it among the Victorians, as in George Bernard Shaw’s Candida:

It’s enough to drive anyone out of their senses.

We can even find it used by more modern English writers such as C.S. Lewis:

She kept her head and kicked her shoes off, as everybody ought to do who falls into deep water in their clothes” (Voyage of the Dawn Treader).

The final word on this goes to the title of an article in the UK newspaper The Telegraph last year, which was “If someone tells you singular ‘they’ is wrong, please do tell them to get stuffed.“

Verbing nouns

The sort of thing that gets pedants’ collective goat is the use of words like impact and action as verbs, as in:

How does this impact upon your writing?

We’re going to have to action this proposal within the month.

This phenomenon is called conversion or, if you want to get really technical, zero-derivation, and it’s been with the English language since at least the early Middle English period.

About ten years ago I supervised an MA dissertation on the history of this kind of construction. While some rare instances of it were found in Old English, conversion became widespread in the Middle English period (1066-1500) and reached a zenith in the 16th and 17th centuries, since which time it has declined slightly. So the modern-day Americans aren’t verbing nearly as much as Shakespeare (“Grace me no grace; nor uncle me no uncle” (Richard II)).

The real culprits

One of several conclusions is available to us.

One is that the English are ruining the language, for in each and every case the American situation represents an older form, and the Standard British is actually the innovative, the newer form.

The next possible conclusion is that the language started out ruined (most ruinous in the age of Shakespeare), and Americans inherited this ruin from the British, but that somehow Victorian English “saved” the English language from ruin.

If this is true, it is still not true that the Americans “are ruining” or “have ruined” the language. It was still the English who ruined it. And if you believe this one, I think you’ve got far more serious problems than worrying about language.

The final view is of course that language changes, and that claims of ruin or otherwise have nothing to do with language, and everything to do with feelings of cultural superiority and bias.

Many people in England will never forgive the world for allowing the sun to set on the British Empire – and will certainly never forgive the USA for being a more powerful nation than the UK.


This article is an edited version of a piece that first appeared here.

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389 Comments sorted by

  1. David Theodor Roth

    Postgrad History Student

    Rob,
    For me, this is not a question of 'ruining' the language, but of cultural domination. We are losing. You don't have to entirely endorse the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in order to accept that language affects (should I have said 'impacts') the way we look at the world. I simply prefer to keep and preserve our Australian culture and resist having it taken over by our powerful friend. Until about the 70s, 'impact' just meant 'the striking of one object against another' in our vernacular, now it has replaced 'affect' almost entirely. An example of cultural influence? (sorry if I'm being pedantic).
    Btw you forgot to mention different verb usage in US English, such as 'dove' and the past tense of 'fit'. A matter of taste, but I find it ugly.

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    1. Tony Ward

      Fellow in Historical Studies at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      Terrific article, thanks Rob. David, re your points on 'keeping Australian culture'. The Age in Melbourne (and I suspect many other Australian papers) used the American -or endings until the First World War. The change back to '-our' happened alongside a fervent (and thoroughly conscious) effort to reinforce imperial ties post WW1. Which reinforces Rob's point that language is a changing thing

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    2. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Tony Ward

      Tony, as a frequent user of Trove for the period ca. 1900-1920, it is not immediately apparent to me that American endings were widely used in the Australian press. I did a quick scan just now in my cuttings database for such usages, but only found a few. But I am willing to stand corrected.

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    3. John Kerr

      IT Education

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      Well I agree that language is changing and every year new words and meanings appear. I think diversity is a good thing and I am glad we don't all speak the same way, although Australian language is largely homogenous apart from a few expressions or words that are used differently in different states. Different accents and use of words adds flavour to life. I love listening to a Scot or someone from Ireland speaking.

      I also object to Americans ruining Australian (rather than English) and this…

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    4. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      ahoy, David! let's face it, people who use "impact" don't have to come to terms with "affect" & "effect". -a.v.

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    5. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to John Kerr

      John Kerr,

      You said:"I also object to Americans ruining Australian"

      Except that it is not the Americans doing anything. It is the Australians 'doing' instead. If we are watching American television, it is us which are doing the watching, and us which are doing the buying.

      Americans are saying "this is wot we got, you want it?". We are then taking, our choice.

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    6. John Kerr

      IT Education

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris Harper
      Yes, I guess you are right there. It's just that the invading culture is so pervasive. It's difficult to get away from.

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    7. Tony Ward

      Fellow in Historical Studies at University of Melbourne

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      Thanks for this point David, and it's interesting you find only a few examples. It could be mainly a Melbourne thing (both The Age and The Herald - neither on Trove - used '-or' for a while). But it was wider than this, with perhaps a class aspect as well. Hence the spelling of the Australian Labor (not Labour) Party.

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    8. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Tony Ward

      To be fair, my 'cuttings' database is restricted to items relevant to my research topic and not all Australian newspapers are in Trove. So I don't want to be too dogmatic. But I'm fairly certain that I would have noticed US usage, if used frequently, in the 'cuttings' I have (I use a ****think database). From memory, other documents I have from the period (again restricted to my topic) don't have this usage either, but I would need to check.

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    9. John Bond

      Dsability worker

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Yes Chris, caveat emptor for sure.....

      O patriots, this news will pain yer!
      Regarding the children's name mania
      If one kid's Montana
      The next, Indiana
      Will the third one be called Pennsylvania?

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    10. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to alfred venison

      Using 'impact' as a verb is almost as bad as using 'privilege' as a verb in the passive voice.

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    11. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      "Gifting" seems to have slithered into the lingo unchallenged as well ... obviously saying something that "giving" couldn't quite manage any more.

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  2. Stephen Ralph

    carer

    I'm sure that those who lament the supposed denigration of English are probably picky academics or staunch monarchists who would like to see the language frozen in time.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      I' sure you would never be "picky" DTR, or at least not intentionally.
      As to being an academic - take two aspirins and lie down.

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    2. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      SJR, I'm not sure why you need to react with an insult to a light-hearted comment. I can easily prove I have Uni quals.

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      DTR I fear you appear a tad too insensitive......it was an attempt at humour. I apologise if you took offence.

      I am well aware of your qualifications as you have mentioned them in your previous posts.

      I guess I could be accused of being envious b/c I don't have any.

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    4. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Accepted. Truly, I never wanted to skite about my quals, but I had to defend myself in other threads from some mean and nasty comments by other people about my alleged lack of knowledge, including a comment which implied academic misbehaviour. Hence I hope you understand my sensitivity.

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    5. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Humorous as you might intend, the actual 'ruiners' of the language are and, as per the article, always have been pedants who want to impose a few half-remembered "rules" they were taught in primary school - around grade 6 if I recall correctly. If you really want a laugh try to FOI the style sheets issued by Ministers to their departments on taking up their posts.

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    6. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen, I support the "American" version of English, over the Frenchified version of English used by the poms.

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    7. Chris Davie

      Solicitor

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Happy to be called picky, but I am neither academic nor monarchist. And of course the language should not be frozen in time. But I still lament, not the denigration, but the deterioration, of our language. Score one for the other side of your argument Stephen.

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  3. Anne Powles

    logged in via Twitter

    Well said. And bring on "color" and the American pronunciation of "schedule" which both make such good sense and conform with existing aspects of our language.

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  4. Jeffrey Weissel

    Retired

    I have a question for the editor(s):

    If I, a U.S. resident, were to submit a piece for publication in "The Conversation," is it editorial policy to change any American spelling and grammarin the text to conform to "Australian" English?

    If so, I would be annoyed, given the thrust of Rob Pensalfini's article.

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    1. Shelby Gull Laird

      Lecturer, School of Environmental Sciences at Charles Sturt University

      In reply to Jeffrey Weissel

      Good question. Typically a scientific journal (I know, not the same as "The Conversation") will accept Standard British, Standard American, Standard Australian as long as you use only one throughout the whole piece. This makes it difficult for me as an American in Australia, as I have to move back and forth in documents.

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    2. Mike Swinbourne

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jeffrey Weissel

      Jeffrey

      As an Australian, I studied for a Masters Degree in the US. I used Australian spelling, and was often corrected. It made for some interesting exchanges.

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    3. Pamela H.

      logged in via email @hotmail.com

      In reply to Jeffrey Weissel

      I very much doubt you'd have to do that Jeffrey. Perhaps the US and we here in Aus should change the names of our evolving languages and just say we're speaking American or Australian instead of 'English'; and accept our differences.

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    4. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to Jeffrey Weissel

      interesting you say that, is it a sign of the times or where in the usa do you reside. i worked in an australian economics faculty library in the 80s. the dean was american, an older man in a gray suit, tall, bolt upright with a marine haircut. his secretary (who typed up all his papers & correspondence in those days) said she started off changing his "-our" to "-or" until he stopped her. she thought he was adopting australian spelling so as not to upset her, who would be doing so much work for him, but it turned out he was simply from boston. -a.v.

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    5. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Mike Swinbourne

      When I did my doctorate in the US in the late 1990s, I used Standard Australian spellings throughout, and nobody objected. The degree was in linguistics, though, so maybe that had something to do with their acceptance of a variety of standard styles.

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    6. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Jeffrey Weissel

      When in Rome Jeffrey, when in Rome. If I lived in America and had to alter my accent -- let alone my spelling and grammar -- to make myself more easily understood there, quite apart from just merely complying with protocol, then that's what I'd bring myself to do. I'd have to comply with whatever laws existed there, like driving on 'wrong' side of the road etc.. It all goes with the territory.

      If you did submit a published article and it was interlarded throughout with American spellings/grammar…

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  5. Eric Ireland

    logged in via Facebook

    I don't really mind the rest of it, but thing about 'verbing nouns' and using 'impact' when you mean 'affect' really gets my goat. I don't understand why people do it.. it feels like they're trying to make things sound more technical or something.

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    1. Alan John Hunter

      Retired

      In reply to Eric Ireland

      My pet hates are "not appropriate" rather than in appropriate, that is very poor English (Phillip Ruddock was a great practitioner of this), and "outcomes" instead of results, outcomes is just silly.

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    2. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Eric Ireland

      "Verbing nouns" is actually much less common now than it was in Shakespeare's time. It is up slightly more than it was in the 19th and early 20th centuries, though.

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  6. Jack Bowers

    Learning Adviser

    Wonderfully rational, Rob, and I wouldn't dispute your linguistic research. Yes, language changes, yes, our views of English stem largely from Victorian notions which tried fix the language and enforce the English as its colonial masters... yes, yes, yes.

    But language is culture, and we pedants (or us pedants in the vernacular) and other cultural gatekeepers will always be sensitive (I mean arc up) about cultural imperialism - by its very nature, a notion of culture has an imperial assumption…

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  7. Jo Lewis

    logged in via Facebook

    I just wish the spell checker would but out and stop correcting the English spelling like putting z into the ise words.

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    1. Shelby Gull Laird

      Lecturer, School of Environmental Sciences at Charles Sturt University

      In reply to Jo Lewis

      Jo, you can fix this by setting your computer word processor settings. In MS Word, it was in the options under the personalization settings where you put in your initials (I have an older version, 2007 maybe). I have mine set to both American and Australian English, so I can pick which I need for which document. :)

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    2. alexander j watt

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Shelby Gull Laird

      oh but it's quite pernicious.. i have found that the reversion to US spelling often persists when for example copying and pasting bits of text between programs. I think there is a subtle re-education of the english speaking world going on courtesy of microsoft.

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    3. Shelby Gull Laird

      Lecturer, School of Environmental Sciences at Charles Sturt University

      In reply to alexander j watt

      Yes, that's happened to me before as well (reversion to American English). You actually have to go in, highlight the text and re-set the language settings. I'm American so I'm not offended by it, but it is a pain in the ... when you need the spelling to be consistently Australian (like writing up subjects at an Australian University). Bill Gates will have us all spelling the American way.... [insert evil laughter here]

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    4. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Shelby Gull Laird

      I have to say, I don't recall ever being corrected by Australian academics when I used 'American' spellings.

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    5. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Our Writing Style Guide recommends using Australian spelling, referring questions to the Australian Oxford Dictionary.

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  8. Suzy Gneist

    Multiple: self-employed, employed, student, mother, volunteer, Free-flyer

    As an editor and designer, i believe language is tied to culture and the differences between cultures and backgrounds can best be expressed by maintaining language distinctions.
    I worked for an international magazine for a while and we maintained the different cultural view points of American, Australian or British writers through preserving their differences in language and expression and stating the reason for including different spellings in our impressum, to avoid the suggestions of mistakes in spelling - it became an exercise in developing language and culture awareness in our readers.

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  9. John Crest

    logged in via email @live.com.au

    This article will get a lot of backlash I suspect. Any chance for the luvvies to sink the boots into the Americans and all that.

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    1. Miles Ruhl

      Thinker

      In reply to John Crest

      Oh the sweet, dripping irony in that comment John.

      Any chance eh...

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    2. John Crest

      logged in via email @live.com.au

      In reply to Miles Ruhl

      Your reply makes no sense to me whatsoever.

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    3. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Or perhaps a less obscure observation that, contrary to Mr Crest's previously expressed suspicion, this article has received precious little backlash.. from 'luvvies' or anybody else.

      Just as supporters of competing football teams may be quite vehement in expressing their preference for one team's tactics or playing style over another's it would be highly unusual for any to express the view that one of the teams is actually ruining the sport.

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    4. Miles Ruhl

      Thinker

      In reply to John Crest

      In a throwaway comment about 'luvvies' (which I am assuming from previous posts that 'luvvie' would be referring to a leftie or leftist) "sinking the boots in" any chance they get, you have done just that - sunk your boot in the first chance you got. Still lost?

      Though as usual, Mr. Ormonde is onto a good thing the clever bugger he is! Could have gone that way also. One of the few posters I still read here on TC. Thanks for always brightening up my day Peter!

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    5. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      Peter,

      Don't let this worry you too much. Not only are there those who laugh with you, but I can assure you, there will always be those who laugh at you as well...

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    6. Jane Middlemist
      Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      citizen

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris Harper,
      Why are you calling me Peter? Your post is marked 'in reply to Jane Middlemist.'If your reply was intended fro me, my point was that I agree with Miles Ruhl's opinion that Peter is a clever man with a sense of humour and Peter's posts cheer me up.
      I laugh at his wise & funny posts.

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    7. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      Jane,

      I was following this particular comment thread.

      My response was a tongue in cheek reference, to Peter, to the constant disagreements he and I have on just about every topic.

      And yes, I am sure there are some people who find him wise and witty (tongue in cheek again).

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    8. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      Aw shuck folks ... (shuffles feet nervously) .. you'll turn my head if you keep this up. And I'd be pretty certain that Scotsman of yours is a big burly bugger Ms M ...and my running isn't what it used to be.

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    9. Jane Middlemist
      Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      citizen

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Sorry, Chris, I misunderstood your post. Whenever I see the phrase "tongue in cheek" my mind throws up images of Margaret Rutherford as Miss Prism in the definitive film version of Oscar Wilde's 'The importance of being Ernest' doing just that: speaking with her tongue in her cheek, literally - physically! Priceless. Then she did it again as the spiritualist in the film version of 'Blithe Spirit'. Side-splitting.

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    10. Jane Middlemist
      Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      citizen

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Not to worry Mr O. Re 'running is not what it used to be': Neither is Wilfred's and we're both elderly and very sedate. He doesn't hold with new-fangled gadgets like the internet. So I print out the funnies for him and he cackles away at your inspired prose!

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    11. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      Well I'm most pleased you both enjoy my scribblings Ms M ... I'm even glad Mr Harper gets a laugh at my foolishness. Although laughing with the tongue in the cheek sounds quite hazardous I reckon. Life is far too important to be taken too seriously.

      And remember folks - if you find it hard to laugh at yourself, I would be happy to do it for you - Groucho Marx.

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    12. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter,

      I merely thought that with all this adulation someone should be murmuring in your ear 'Remember, you are but human'.

      After all, with Hubris inevitably comes Nemesis.

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    13. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Miles Ruhl

      I am not so sure. I have often heard reports that flooding, which I think may have been introduced into Aussie Rules by Carlton, is 'destroying the game' and I have read that German teams are 'destroying' soccer by their excessively conservative and defensive tactics. And of course the Poms were said to have destroyed cricket and much of western civilisation with bodyline, altho presumably much to James Hill's annoyance, they didn't quite succeed.

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  10. Alex John Crandon

    Surgical Oncologist & Director Qld Centre for Gyn Cancer

    Interesting article and well argued. I don't care much whether you spell a place of incarceration, gaol; or jail. My problem with the American bastardisation of English is when they do things that are totally illogical and then try to argue validity. In other words, I don't mind someone being somewhat arrogant if they are as good as they believe they are; what I dislike immensely is someone who believes they are the best when they are patently not the best.

    Take for example the abbreviation…

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Alex John Crandon

      But then the English English is full of crazy and frustrating examples.

      Look at the way they pronounce some of their town/village names.
      And they manage to make sinjun out of St John, and beecham out of beuchamp..............it's give and take old boy.

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    2. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Alex John Crandon

      Alex, Phonological assimilation is what changes 'maths' to 'math'. The unvoiced sibilant after the unvoiced dental fricative is insufficiently contrastive to be retained in informal usage, which then spreads to more formal usages and finally to spelling. There are other contributing factors like case confusion and plurality of plurals, but the phonological explanation is simplest. So not so much illogical as efficient or lazy depending on your prejudices.

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    3. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Alex John Crandon

      Alex, the reason for the letter 'K' in EKG is simply to clearly -- (cl)ever-so-clearly -- disambiguate it from EEG when spoken to another person, especially over the phone etc., not unlike the usage of the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet [Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo; and Wun, Too, Tree, Fow-er, Fife.

      It's for this reason that I'll always prefer hearing the pronunciation of 'Nucleic' [especially in DNA] as Nu'clay'ic, and not as Nu'clee'ic, because the latter really does nothing to sonically separate the two final vowels.

      The metonymic 'Law' stoops to using *legal fictions* to suit its purpose when it's unable to embrace the entire truth surrounding certain matters set before it, so there's no substantive reason why English or any other language shouldn't also on occasion be lent some just-as-loosely-held 'Lex'ical licence in the interests of clarifying matters beyond all doubt.

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    4. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Alex John Crandon

      Alex, sorry but your etymology of "mathematics" is clueless. Hint: checkout out physics, economics, metaphysics, logistics... When we abbreviated 'economics', we say 'econ', not 'econs'. You will probably have a seizure when told that "mathematics" originally meant astrology. You do the math!

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    5. Christopher Peterson

      Senior Lecturer

      In reply to Alex John Crandon

      I have problem with trying to ground an arbitrary rule in some sort of universal logic. I am an American academic teaching and researching in Sydney, but I would never argue that "maths" is illogical. However, I would argue against the pedantic insistence that there must be an "s" added to math because the discipline is plural. Should we teach and study philosophies? English literatures? Or even better, sciences? Yes, people refer to "the sciences," but who says "I teach sciences?" "Maths" sounds a little funny to my ears, but I'm not gonna get too worked up about it, even less am I inclined to argue that it is wrong.

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    6. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Truth be told Andy, quite apart from the fact that their being able to pronounce it as just 'math', instead of 'maths', does indeed give those who lisp a charitable chance to keep what could loothly be termed ath being that of but a thivil tongue in their head, the word 'math' really has nothing at all to do with the word 'mathematics', simply because the word 'math' was cropped [pun intended] from the word 'aftermath'. That'th my thtory and I'm thticking to it in hope that thomeone will eventually…

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  11. Imelda J

    RN Bsc Dip Journ

    There will be changes to english due to the increasing use of abbreviations used in text messages and sites such as FB and twitter.

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  12. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    Excellent!

    I have no issue with the creeping vernacular and the subversion of "proper" speech to achieve a meaningful end... but I do have trouble with haitch, innit and the pronounciation (sic) of words based on laziness, ignorance or just plain mischieviousness (sic).

    Changes in language seem to occur from two sources - from inspired wordsmithing - yer Shakespeares, Gershwins, CJ Dennises and the like - and from common usage - the latter spreading like dry rot - suggesting a chronic deafness…

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Just to underline the point re CJ Dennis: cop a wallop of this:

      "Somethin’ or someone—I don’t rightly know;
      But, seems to me, I’m kind er lookin’ for
      A tart I knoo a ‘undred years ago,
      Or, maybe, more.
      Wot’s this I’ve ‘eard them call that thing?…Geewhizz!
      Me ideel bit o’ skirt! That’s wot it is!

      Me ideel tart!… An’, bli’me, look at me!
      Jist take a squiz at this, an’ tell me can
      Some square an’ honist tom take this to be
      ‘Er own true man?
      Aw, Gawd! I’d be as true to ‘er, I would
      As straight an’ stiddy as…Ar, wot’s the good?

      Me, that ‘as done me stretch fer stoushin’ Johns,
      An’ spen’s me leisure gittin’ on the shick,
      An’ ‘arf me nights down there, in Little Lon.,
      Wiv Ginger Mick,
      Jist ‘eadin’ ‘em, an’ doing in me gilt.
      Tough luck! I s’pose it’s ‘ow a man is built."

      ... eat yer art out Shakespeare!

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  13. Jim KABLE

    teacher

    Rob

    A pleasure to read. Thank-you. Common-sense. I had a kinsman who edited a dictionary - the New English Dictionary - he based it on Historical Principles - and it was descriptive NOT prescriptive. He and his team found words in the midst of written passages as far back as they could go - revealing intriguing changes of meaning over time. As is the way with languages. His Dictionary was printed by the Clarendon Press in Oxford. We know the dictionary as the OED. I also spent many years teaching English in western Japan. A version of your explanation here was a part of my repertoire to be presented - especially with university and continuing adult education programs - when interest was expressed in the differences between standard US and standard British/Australian forms.

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  14. Michael Mihajlovic

    Retired

    I think the issue is not who is doing what, but, what is the solution?
    If we continually mix each contry's "idioms" then what language should each country adopt in its schools? And how should we communicate with each other?
    I believe we should either adopt a universal English language or each country should rigidly stick to its "own" English language and develop it over time. Above all there should be logic in its in its usage for both eaducation and communication.
    Francis Bacon in "Of Travaille" said "let it appear that he doth not change his country manners, for those of foreign parts; but only prick in some flowers, of that he hath learned abroad, into the customs of his own country".
    I am biased and prefer the Oxford English Version.

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    1. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      But surely it would be wise to make "our" language easier to speak and write, making it more accessible to all.

      It's about communication not propa speling.

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    2. Victoria Phillis

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      I still get a mental cringe when thinking of a particular high school English class in the 60's.

      In a class book discussion I said "Why would you wan't to do a heap of rubbish like that for?"

      The teacher retaliated by writing up my question and changing the focus to dissecting my poor grammar. I still retain the ability to irritate my far more literate daughter and friends with spelling and grammar.
      Email with spell check ( using AU as first preference or British if it's not available) is one of my favourite changes to modern living

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    3. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Victoria Phillis

      It can be humiliating to be embarrassed in such a way - and it does stay with you.

      For some reason I remember a 3rd form geography teacher calling me "cactus" in a put down for a question I answered. The whole class erupted with laughter and it made me feel about an inch tall.

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    4. Michael Mihajlovic

      Retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi Stephen,
      You have a very good point there.
      That, amongst other reasons, is why I suggested " there should be a certain logic"...
      However, I am a romantic at heart, a bit like Bacon, so I prefer to retain the history and tradition of the language with only "essential" enhancements all of which can be mastered with a set of rules.

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    5. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      It's always going to be a vexing issue.

      If English is going to be considered the international language (and it looks as though it will be), it needs to be free of many rules except perhaps one - the need to be understood clearly.

      And the history of English is one of constant change. After all if you read Shakespeare and Bacon in the "original", it is obvious that spelling and grammar have changed considerably.

      And thank goodness for that I say.

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    6. Michael Mihajlovic

      Retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi Stephen,
      You are absolutely right, but, my human nature being what it is, I would not want to be so clinical with the changes as to destroy its richness and heritage that I feel Americanisms and and modern day usages are doing.

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    7. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      But the American language is rich and powerful too -

      the poetry of Walt Whitman, the novels of Carson McCuller, the joy of Michael Connelly's detective Hieronymous (Harry) Bosch.

      The lyrics of Cole Porter, Larry Hart and Ira Gershwin.

      The wit of Dorothy Parker, Ogden Nash and Phyllis Diller.

      and so on.

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    8. Michael Mihajlovic

      Retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi Stephen,
      Then, as I said at the outset, each country can develop its own version of English, but, let us not sacrifice the original English in order to do that; particularly with Americanisms that I view as atrocious.

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    9. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      If you go ENGLAND the home of ENGLISH you'll find a myriad of dialects that in some cases are hard to understand as English.

      Why pick out one dialect - that of academia or the aristocracy - as the correct one?

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    10. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      Michael,

      Many of what are called Americanisms are archaic, regional, or archaic regional English uses. Fall, for autumn, I understand is archaic west country usage.

      Pity the poor Scots. The Anglo Saxon derived Scottish language, that was already dying away when Rabbie Burns wrote his Address to a Haggis, has been pretty much replaced by the English version, albeit heavily accented.

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    11. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      I remember (not remembered enough to track it down) stumbling across a truly outstanding little essay on the history of the BBC radio attitude and policy to spoken English in which the rules and manners of the toffs were deemed suitable and indeed uplifting for the masses.

      Not only did this spawn the BBC style manual and have newsreaders turning up to work in tuxedos (to inculcate the proper tone on radio (a practice also applied on our own Aunty ABC) but it also entailed the deliberate and…

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    12. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      SJR,

      The dialect of academia or the aristocracy wasn't the one which came to dominate, because there wasn't one.

      I recently watched the White Queen, and I was annoyed that everyone was depicted as speaking with RP. In fact, until recently, everyone, from top to bottom, spoke their own regional accent or dialect.

      The winner in this competition for mutual comprehension wasn't class based, but the midlands regional dialect.

      Lets face it, if the academic language had won out we would all be speaking Latin right now.

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    13. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Thanks for that.

      And speaking of Latin, imagine how the Romans must feel as to how we've bastardised their language.

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    14. Michael Mihajlovic

      Retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Hi Stephen,
      I will give you an example.
      In Germany there is the official High German language that is studied at school and has nothing to do with Aristocracy. It is the common language of Germany in order to overcome the problem of the multitude of parochial German dialects that have entirely individual words for various for nouns verbs etc. I must acknowledge here that the problem is not so bad that Germans cannot get by regardless of their dialect, but, it is recognised that there is a need for a common written communication standard.
      I am certain that if you had to choose the official language of England you would choose Oxford English rather than a parochial dialect for a multitude of reasons other than aristocratic or any other prejudice.

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    15. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Try telling the French they speak a bastardised Latin. Fashoda will cease to be the last dispute between the UK and France.

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    16. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      I take your point.

      All I'm saying is language is a tool for everyone who speak a "common" language.

      It is a tool to be understood by the high and lowly and everyone else in between. A dialect is parochial and of little use outside a border.

      If we all speak in different manners and use different spellings, but still understand each other, what does it matter.

      But again I can see the argument for "proper" English in many cases - the law e.g.

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    17. Michael Mihajlovic

      Retired

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Hi Chris,
      I was not suggesting that every British nation (Scotts, Welsh, Irish) should discard its ethnic language. I was referring to the official language within each nation.
      Please refer to my comment to Stephen John Ralph.

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    18. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Michael Mihajlovic

      English was once a Germanic language and retains much of those roots - indeed as late as the 14th century Dutch, German and English were not altogether mutually unintelligible. English acquired a French overlay post 1066 and this certainly accelerated divergence from other Germanic languages. There is a dialect chain of Germanic dialects from Amsterdam (perhaps even London) to Budapest where each is more or less intelligible to immediate neighbours but more or less unintelligible to those further apart. A similar chain of Romance languages stretches from Italy to Spain at least. The notion of some fixed and immutable standard language just doesn't work - see how the Academie Francaise rails against the Anglicization of French (specifically Parisian French). If Esperanto actually had more than a handful of native speakers spread over the various continents, it too would develop dialects and eventually competing standards.

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    19. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Good point, Stephen.
      When did "Oxford" English become "Standard British"?
      Just more colonialism.
      And how dare the Irish, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Middle English "post vocalic /r/" be deemed "discordant"?
      What utter arrogance.

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    20. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Nothing to pity in any Scots "accent", Chris, after all it was the Scots who taught the Anglo-Saxons to read and write.
      Perhaps they are to blame for it all with their non-English fetish for education.

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    21. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      You said: "A similar chain of Romance languages stretches from Italy to Spain"

      Roumania to Spain.

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    22. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to James Hill

      Dinnae be a glaekit wee scunner , Scots is spoken, just not written anymore.
      It is the Oxonians who have the accent which does not correspond to the written words taught to their anscestors.

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    23. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to James Hill

      Precisely James.... the oxonian dialect was a sign of privilege and proper breeding ... wouldn't work at all if it was spoke how it was writ ... that would allow the riff-raff in.

      Languages don't just unify - they equally divide. Even common ones. Perhaps especially the common ones.

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    24. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Dennis Alexander

      Dennis,

      As far as roots of English go, a bit of trivia for you: Modern Frisian is sufficiently similar to Old English that a Frisian speaker can pick up Beowulf and read it straight. Damned if I could do that.

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    25. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      There is that Magyar break in the chain between Italy and Roumania.
      Byron described Italian dialects as the Latin of the Legions, perhaps that is a further clue.

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    26. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to James Hill

      "There is that Magyar break in the chain between Italy and Roumania" - that's right, but there wasn't a "magyar break" back when the romans ruled the roost, stationed legions in the place and called it "pannonia". byron's quip may still hold. -a.v.

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    27. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to alfred venison

      Yes, Alfred, it is safe to say that anyone who knows what Magyar refers to, also knows that they arrived after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire,
      But what that original chain referred in the post was that people adjacent to each other in the "chain could easily understand each other, whereas at the extremes that understanding would break down.
      So at the Magyar break that chain of understanding would no longer apply.
      On another language front, during the Crimean war Scottish Highlanders…

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    28. Sebastian Poeckes

      Retired

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Latin varied as much as English does all across the Roman Empire. For example, the letters written on wooden tablets dug up at Vindolanda on Hadrian's Wall were written in a sort of military dialect. And as the "Roman" soldiers stationed there were all natives of what we would think of as Belgium, there were a few non Latin words and phrases thrown in as well.

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    29. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen, English is more Germanic than Latinate. Most of the Latin in English comes via French.

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    30. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      I thought it was about half, not most. Don't forget the effects of both the Church and academia.

      But what do I know. Doesn't matter anyway, other than to a pedant.

      I thoroughly recommend 'The Adventure of English', a BBC production hosted by Melvyn Bragg.

      http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/adventure-of-english/

      When it was originally on television, years and years ago, I found it compelling viewing.

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    31. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris, yes, you have provided a clearer explanation than mine. I also saw the Bragg TV series years ago. Simply spellbinding!

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    32. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Eric Thacker

      Most impressive. I knew they didn't just give this fella a knighthood for boldly going all over the place. An award for splitting infinitives perhaps.

      I am surrounded by Black Angus cattle all on their way to Maccas eventually ... and I won't miss them at all. Unlike the relatively sedate and courteous cow-talk offered by Stewart, these fellas converse as if equipped with those long plastic hooting trumpets so beloved of football hooligans. They can be heard for miles. Often.

      Re the going boldly business, I routinely worship at the feet of the great and sadly dead Douglas Adams who noted in his own book of Revelation, the Hitchhikers' Guide, that space adventurers were charged "to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before." Utterly lovely.

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    33. Eric Thacker

      self employed at viticultural contractor

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Fascinating. More study of this phenomenon is needed. Perhaps some unemployed climate scientists can be put to work on this, as our PM has stated that this is their area of expertise. Hark! I hear the approaching footsteps of the cat herder....

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    34. ernest malley

      farmer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I've always wished that he'd written "..infinitives that no man had splat before" as would suit a super intelligent shade of the colour blue.

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  15. Paul Burns

    Historian

    So I no longer have to say "Up with this I will not put"?

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    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Paul Burns

      Not unless your not doing so is likely to affect your output and cause you to feel somewhat put out Paul.

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  16. Mark Horner

    logged in via Facebook

    I don't think anyone is disputing the value or utility of the formation and resuscitation of older forms in different cultural contexts - Noah Webster, in order to prove the American colonists as superior to the hated English, really did go all Esperanto on the language, of which we have only some remnants in use nowadays.

    However, what most people seem to react against, is the 'dumbing down' (a meta-neologism?) of structure and syntax which modern development in usage seems to always entail…

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  17. Steve Hindle

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    The most frustrating language use I dislike is from people trying to hide information behind a wall of gobbledygook. Our politicians are masters of it as are many academics and business leaders.
    I see it as coming from a defensive position by people who don't have confidence in their ideas. If know one really understands them then they are less likely to be criticised or discredited.
    Are Americans destroying the English language? I don't know, but some are certainly trying.
    “Reports that say that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns- the ones we don't know we don't know.”
    ― Donald Rumsfeld

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    1. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      In his famous statement about known unknowns Rumsfeld adopted an expression that was used in the United States military at least since 1984 (Furlong, 1984). The idea seems to have been first expressed by the mid 19th century US author and transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau (1854) who wrote paraphrasing Confucius –

      To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.

      (Thoreau, 1854: chapter 1-A)

      Furlong, Raymond B (1984) Clausewitz and modern war gaming: losing can be better than winning, Air University Review, July-August, http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1984/jul-aug/furlong.html (accessed 25 September 2010).

      Thoreau, Henry David (1854) Walden, http://thoreau.eserver.org/walden1a.html (accessed 25 September 2010).

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    2. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Thanks for the reply Gavin,
      But now I am all confused if I really know what I don't know or don't know what I really do know?

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    3. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      And that is entirely appropriate Steve... the worst thing is not knowing what we don't know I think .... but the older I get the more I know what I don't.

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    4. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      The older I get, the more nagging the feeling that while there are some things that I know that I don't know and I'm not going to do anything about knowing, I don't know (about/of) all of the things that I don't know and some of these might be important to know that I don't know.

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    5. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Certainly if you compared US and "British" science and engineering texts some years back, you could see that the US commitment to educating its migrant masses, despite their weakness in English, resulted in much clearer texts.
      The British were still handicapped by the English political presumption that education was a privilege of a certain class of English people, where the language itself was used to enforce the class distinction.
      In short the British texts on the same subjects were pathetically inferior to the US ones.
      Whether this disadvantage is extended to Australian English might be supposed if not actually proven.

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    6. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Merely list all the things that you don't know.
      Read them out and then you know what you don't know.
      No doubt the original translation from Confucius missed something.

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    7. David Harris

      Retired engineer

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      If you don't understand what Rumsfeld was saying, then you don't understand the complexity of the world. As any project progresses you come across surprises that you now realise you need to know about - ie, unknown unknowns. This is the reason why complex projects always end up costing more than anyone (especially politicians) say they will before they start. The cost of Labor's NBN now looks high because, by now, many of the costly "unknown unknowns" are no longer unknown. The Coalition's proposed NBN looks cheap by comparison because, at this early stage of its life, the "unknown unknowns" remain unknown. If you don't understand this, how can you compare project proposals such as this? How can you work out which way to vote?

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    8. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to David Harris

      Yep ... not knowing that we don't know something is perhaps the most dangerous of conditions... a paddock full of surprises and shocks these unknown unknowns - by definition beyond anticipation. They just drop on one without warning.

      But knowing that we don't know something at least prepares us to find out, hopefully... maybe even spurs us to keep watch in case what we don't yet know pops up.

      Yet most dangerous of all perhaps are those known knowns ... things we think we know but all so often don't. They just hang about being common sense truths and stop us realising that we don't really know what we are yet to know about.

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    9. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to David Harris

      I think this 'unknown unknown' phrasing is concision at the expense of clarity. There are clearer ways to express the same thing. I am able to compare the NBN alternatives without using this terminology.

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    10. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to David Harris

      "If you don't understand what Rumsfeld was saying, then you don't understand the complexity of the world."
      Thanks David,
      Luckily we have have clever people who understand the complexity of the world taking us to war in places like Iraq. At least the WMD are no longer a unknown known.

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    11. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Nah the WMDs were a known known that wasn't quite as known as one would have assumed. Perhaps that makes it an unknown known then... stuff we think we know but don't.... the most dangerous knowns of the lot.

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    12. Steve Hindle

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Thanks Peter for making this clear.
      Actually, on second thoughts :no, this stuff is doing my head in. But I am starting to have a suspicion that an unknown known is just another way of saying "guess".

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    13. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Steve Hindle

      Steve, actually Rumsfeld was snobbishly signalling his elite education. Only the bogans got all schadenfreudey on Rumsfeld. Poor things were ot familiar with "unknown unknowns".

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    14. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to David Harris

      "If you don't understand what Rumsfeld was saying, then you don't understand the complexity of the world"
      David, exactly. Typically, bogans with no education in modelling and simulations.

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  18. Kerri Worthington

    housekeeper

    The "language changes, get over it" argument is most often used to justify lazy use of that language. There's nothing wrong with trying to maintain some standards otherwise all English speakers will need subtitles and translators to understand each other.

    Having said that, there's little to argue with about this article with one exception: impact. "How does this impact upon your writing?" is more likely now to be "How does this impact your writing?" What does that even mean?

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  19. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    It is interesting that many complaints about US cultural imperialism perpetuate it by referring to the country between Canada and Mexico by the name of the continent that has about 40 countries.

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  20. Tony Bryer

    Software developer

    What seems to me to be a recent and (to me) jarring change is the elimination of 'that' in sentences such as "I think [that] GST needs rethinking", though I'm happy to read above "Pedants claim that a double negative ...". Is this American usage in parallel with their "He wrote [to] the President" and "He debated [with] John Smith"?

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    1. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Tony Bryer

      Then you'll dislike the US use of 'because' 'introducing a noun or noun phrase, or sometimes an adjective—e.g., "because reasons", "because Internet", "because tired".' (Curzan, 2014) This was voted the word of the year for 2013 by the American (they mean US) Dialect Society.

      Curzan, Anne (2014) Because word(s) of the year 2013, Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 January, retrieved 7 January 2014 from http://chronicle.com/blogs/linguafranca/2014/01/06/because-words-of-the-year-2013/

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    2. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Tony Bryer

      I think you will find that elision, particularly of grammatical words, dates back to at least Chaucer.

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    3. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Tony Bryer

      Tony, not as bad as starting a paragraph with "this", like most TC articles!

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  21. David Theodor Roth

    Postgrad History Student

    Rob,
    One change you didn't mention was the insidious spread of US-style 'management speak'cliches into ordinary business communication. Such as 'overarching', 'going forward' etc. As a senior tech, I used to mentally play 'bull*** bingo' with some speakers at business meetings.

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      Quite right. I didn't mention it because it's a different phenomenon. I wanted to stick to elements of 'grammar' rather than stylistic fashions, because that's what I know best. But it's worth talking about. What's at stake here is the specificity of language, and I'm a big fan of that, but I think it raises more questions about intention and rhetoric than just structure of language (to the extent that there's any sort of solid line between them).
      I wonder why you are saying they are "US-style", though.
      Academics in Australia have been playing bull*** bingo in school/faculty meetings for well over a decade.

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  22. James Jenkin

    EFL Teacher Trainer

    Really interesting article, thanks Rob!

    But do the pedants actually say American English is to blame for double negatives, sentence-final prepositions and singular 'they'?

    You often hear these are 'wrong', but I've never heard anyone say US English is the culprit.

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to James Jenkin

      Have a browse of the other comments here. You'll see that "Americans" are being held to blame for all manner of linguistic atrocities ;)

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  23. Jan Thomas

    Senior Fellow at Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute

    Yes, languages change and I like a dictionary that gives acceptable alternatives. I loathe 'programme' which came back into prominence in the Howard years. Along with 'numeracy' as any word which requires several sentences to explain properly to parents does not belong in education. But my pet hate at the moment is the full-stop that now appears at the end of Mr, Dr etc. Why?

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      It's all just a part of the Grand Restoration Project Gavin ... a return to all things decent and proper.... and tackling the big issues of the day.

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    2. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I'm surprised you see this as an issue. I use programme by default, other than when talking of a computer program, and think no more of it than using elevator rather than lift, or pavement rather than sidewalk.

      This could reflect my age, or it could just be an example of the importance of personal perception, both mine and yours, on what is 'propper'.

      Regardless, I don't actually care enough to care. In all three cases both forms are acceptable, all convey the message adequately,

      Program, programme, they are both acceptable. Rather than get hot under the collar, why not just accept their existence, and revel in the diversity?

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    3. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Jings Chris ... programmed by default ... there's a surprise. Perhaps our spellinges give an insight to the soule.

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  24. John Browne
    John Browne is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Surveyor

    Good article Rob.
    The spelling of Labor as in the party would also be a good Australian example (I think it had something to do with King O'Malley but I may be wrong).
    However my main bone of contention is the adoption by my younger Australian friends of the twee American euphemism "ass" .

    You missed your chance to bring it up here:
    "For example, if you had just got off the phone I might ask you “What did they want?” This is appropriate even though it’s taken as given that you were speaking to only one person. I’d have to have a pole inserted very far into my sphincter indeed to ask “What did she or he want?”"

    Proper English has a word for this: "arse". It consists of four letters, carries the emotive content of a true swear word and and is never confused with "ass" meaning "donkey".

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    1. Paul Rogers

      Manager

      In reply to John Browne

      Or even "butt" but no longer "bum". Seems that has been exclusively reserved for derogatory insult, eg Hawke and America's Cup comment.

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  25. Chris Harper

    Engineer

    I have trouble with 'standard Australian' as opposed to 'standard British'. I was born and raised in Australia, spent nearly 25 years in the UK, and had lengthy stays on both the east and left coasts in the USA.

    No one in any of these countries cared. In the US I tended to use American spellings, but otherwise I made no attempt to use 'standard' anything. In fact, with the exception of a few colloquialisms, I am damned if I know the difference between standard Australian and standard British. To me, those who rabbit on about it have a few kangaroos loose in their top paddock...

    Everywhere I have been no one gave a tinkers damn one way or the other. With one exception, in California the female office staff wanted to put my voice on the office answering machine because they loved my 'British' accent.

    That aside, I go with the author on this, some people are just a bit too precious when it comes to English usage.

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    1. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Chris Harper

      When I was editing/writing technical documentation for US clients, they did give a 'tinker's damn'. They were insistent on US English and about removing any Australianisms/UK expressions. Fair enough.

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    2. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      David,

      Sure, when I was internationalising American software and manuals for British and European markets I encountered issues. Spellings and colloquialisms mainly. Avoid colloquialisms, as I pointed out, and pretty much all you are left with are spellings. In the years I was doing that it was more rule of thumb than applying any standardisation rules.

      Eventually we got it all set up so the only production differences between the versions on release was spellings, and we had not a single complaint about any diverging from some sort of standard.

      I am aware that this is a little more complex in professional technical documentation - maintenance manuals for Boeing passenger aircraft for instance, but that is what Simplified Technical English is for - which does have defined vocabulary, spellings and other standards .

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    3. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Agreed. I was just pointing out that our customers cared about correct usage. I gave a technical talk once in the US about Z(ed)-Variables and was slow to pick up that they wanted to hear about Z(ee)-Variables. The audience was too polite to correct me. Embarrassing.

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    4. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Chris Harper

      I had some American lecturers at university who were much more punctilious about spelling and grammar than their Australian colleagues: a particular peeve was contractions. Essays would be returned with the red pen scrawled all over "won't/didn't//isn't".

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    5. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Chris Harper

      There must be a lot of linguists with kangaroos loose in their top paddocks, cuz "Standard Australian" has been in widespread use in linguistics and English dialectology for well over a generation. While the differences between Standard Australian and Standard British English are largely phonological and prosodic (sound, including intonation), there are vocabulary and some grammatical differences.
      Since the 1960s, what we might crudely call "white" Australian English has been seen as belonging…

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  26. David Pearn

    Follower

    If it's a two way street, to what extent are Americans influenced by the British?.

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    1. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to David Pearn

      David,

      The Americans speak English don't they? I'd call that a pretty darn big influence.

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  27. Pamela H.

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    Language is constantly evolving. This is not 'ruining' anything, it's just the normal way of evolution. 'Google' it :p

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    1. Michael Mihajlovic

      Retired

      In reply to Pamela H.

      Yes, it is evolving in a self destruct mode into gobbledegook.
      Please read some of the comments.

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  28. Alexander Rosser

    Philosopher

    Language, whether written or spoken or signed, whether English or not, should be transparent. By this I mean that the mind should be following meaning of the author, not stumbling over the syntax or spelling. Good writing tries to follow this rule.

    When listening to a speaker with a different but familiar accent such as Boston American, Lowland Scots, Upper-class English, unusual syntax is usually invisible if it is in character. The written word comes without an accent so we do stumble over syntax or spelling not native to ourselves.

    Myself, I stumble every time over the use of "data" in the plural; which is separate topic in itself. See http://nxg.me.uk/note/2005/singular-data/ for a good discussion.

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  29. Ai Rui Sheng

    Retired

    Having lived in a non-English dominated society for almost twenty years the obvious problem with the American dialect is its lack of gentility. Every unschooled migrant worker in China will readily regurgitate the foulest English at the slightest hint of provocation. How does this happen? DVD's of US movies. A blank DVD in China costs more than one with a movie on it because of underground distribution and volumes. A movie costs less than a dollar, which could also buy a bowl of noodles at an ethnic restaurant, even in Shanghai or Beijing.
    My pet hates are:
    1. The creeping affection among sportsmen and media for the pronunciation of defence,
    2. The little red lines under my correct spellings because of ubiquitous US spellcheckers.

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    1. John Kerr

      IT Education

      In reply to Ai Rui Sheng

      Yet another example of how a culture is being taken over. I had not thought of it in terms of a non-English dominated society. The bad language used to total excess in many US movies these days is not doing anything good. It is not 'diversity'. I use bad language myself but in context and at appropriate times. When I listen to many US movies I am appalled to think that every third word needs to be swear word to get its message across. (I remember seeing one movie that only had one swear word…

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    2. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to John Kerr

      If you want to hear bad language, listen in on primary & secondary students in the playground.

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    3. John Kerr

      IT Education

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Stephen I agree with you but where are they getting it from? As a teacher for 37 years I used to see it all the time. New swear word on TV - in the schoolyard a few days later. Some quirky behaviour on Home and Away - will be used by schoolkids soon after. Kids don't invent behaviour they imitate what they see.

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    4. Dennis Alexander

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Ai Rui Sheng

      change the language settings in your software to UK English to remove at least one irritant.

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  30. Fred Pribac

    logged in via email @internode.on.net

    Fantastic article - thouroughly enjoyable and convincing.

    ... but, please, please, don't write as convincing an article to disabuse me of my notion that corporate speak is gobbledygook.

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Fred Pribac

      I wouldn't dream of it. Any variety of any language can be used to communicate clearly, or it can be used to obfuscate. The corporate (and dare I say university corporate) world's desire to use their language for smoke and mirrors is no slight on the structure of the language or variety itself. Like the printing press and gunpowder, language varieties are not guilty for the sins they are put to :)

      Ooops, I mean "The sins to which they are put." Ummm

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  31. Paul Rogers

    Manager

    Like others here, I write in US and AUS. Word's flexible spell-checking helps out of course, but it sure does get tricky at times, beyond spelling and grammar, when cultural idiom takes over.

    My US editor did not like the word "training" with reference to (US) baseball or football "practice". And then of course that period would go inside the double quote at the end of "practice."

    Does it worry me? No so much. Go figure! ;-)

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  32. Paul Burns

    Historian

    One way around with harbour/harbor, is to use, eg, Sydney Harbour (Aust.) or eg Boston Harbor (American.)
    alfred venison, g'day mate. Probably catch you here again, eh?

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    1. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to Paul Burns

      that you, Burnsie!? (love that australianism). hello & yes, you may find me here from time to time, especially when the subject is down my alley. -alf.

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  33. alexander j watt

    logged in via Twitter

    in this connexion i would like to see the acceptance of 'youse' as 2p plural form of 'you'. It is a most useful colloquialism. but if was ever a standardization of world english it is probably that already decided by the management of microsoft corp. i am of the opinion that upper case is going out of fashion except for use in online shouting matches.

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to alexander j watt

      I'm a big fan of "youse", and its cousins "y'all, yinz and yumob", used variously in the US, UK and Australia. After all, it's just giving the language back what it so absent-mindedly lost a few centuries ago.. a means of distinguishing one from more than one second person... Which most languages that distinguish singular from plural have.

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  34. Philip Toydog

    logged in via Facebook

    yes - Very nice, thank you. please now do one on spelling using the "Doctor Johnson froze Spelling in time just so he could get His Dictionary in order" argument.

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  35. Paul Miller

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Is there any particular reason for recycling this year old paper now?

    Have there been any noteworthy developments on this issue since Prince Charles gave his talk to the British Council nearly 20 years ago?

    In any event, Prince Charles was not bemoaning a US influenced ruination of *the* English language but more the increasing international cultural influence of the US through their competing version of English. Where once British English had been spearheading the global growth of the…

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Paul Miller

      Should say "single-handedly".. This was a clumsy way of stating that I think that some (published) claims about how much English Shakespeare "invented" - as opposed to made famous - don't stand up to scrutiny. Nothing against Shakespeare, after all I'm the director of a Shakespeare theatre company.
      You can read about that on my blog too (from whence this article originally came) in a separate post.

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  36. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    What about 'done' for finished, eg, 'I'm done with that', and 'Are you done'? I quite like this USism, tho I haven't adopted it yet.

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    1. Rod Govers

      Retired IT administrator

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      That is one of two 'USisms' that really irritate me, Gavin. I cannot hear the word or read the word 'done' used in the US sense without it grating.

      The other is 'bathroom' instead of toilet particularly in reference to public loos. I have to correct my children every time they use it which is most of the time.

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    2. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      The yanks are big on mannerist euphemisms ... copiously polite bunch that them is. Here's a few obvious ones" gee or geez" - for Jesus... heck for hell ... darn for damn... even gol darn - a doubler. Most of these come from sanitising languge connected with sex, religion, death or ahem bodily functions...

      Now here's one you might not know ... an unknown unknown ... next time you here someone called a berk ... they are really being called a Berkley Hunt (rhyming slang)...

      Then of course…

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    3. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      "next time you here someone called a berk ... they are really being called a Berkley Hunt (rhyming slang)"

      You are giving the impression that this has American origins and have transposed Berkshire to Berkley, no doubt to reinforce that.

      This expression is clearly of English/London origin and is widely used (if not fully understood) throughout the UK while virtually unknown in the Americas.

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    4. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Paul Miller

      Gosh darn it! Wikipedia is confirming the reference to "Berkeley Hunt" although it also confirms its London origins.

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    5. Paul Rogers

      Manager

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      I should add that "zoob" is not only slang for a large dog's penis (among other things), but also a derogatory term for a certain US university's sports teams' fans.

      And I thought that was one of ours!

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    6. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Paul Miller

      Not giving the impression at all ... saying it like wot it said in my etymological dictionary ... could be wrong of course .. it's an American dictionary.

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    7. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      The ruder these things are the faster they spread I suspect Paul and the more confused the origins.

      But the point about the American passion for politeness and for using euphemisms seems pretty well established.

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    8. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      In the UK an understanding of rhyming slang is near universal, even if a propensity to use it is not, thank God. I can assure you, an understanding of the meaning of berk(shire hunt) is also pretty universal.

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    9. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Or the very rude (or simply efficient?) was of dumping someone - "We're done".

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  37. Pamela H.

    logged in via email @hotmail.com

    As a child my mother always corrected me on: 'me and my friend' or 'my friend and me'. We had to say 'she and I' or 'my friend and I'. Yet it seems to be perfectly acceptable in the US to say 'me and so and so'. What do we do with that one? I don't know what's 'right' anymore, or even if there is a 'right' and 'wrong' here.

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    1. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Pamela H.

      The rule as to whether to use "me" or "I" in such instances is based on which word you would have used had your friend not been present.
      If you would have said "will you come to the shops with me" then you would say "will you come to the shops with my friend and me".

      If, on the other hand, you would say "I am happy to be here" then you would say "My friend and I are happy to be here".

      The 'plural' version merely follows the same choices as the first person singular version.

      This is basic English grammar and nothing to do with American English.

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    2. Peter Farrell

      teaching-principal at at a small rural school

      In reply to Paul Miller

      I have a few observations:

      First: Thank you for your explanation of when to use I or me. It's much better than mine and I shall use it with my students.

      The point has been made by others about the pervasiveness of Microsoft's default settings. In 2009 I wrote my doctoral thesis using American English because the software was stronger than I was. I did however, manage to write the bibliography with the original spelling as provided, but only because I made it a separate document and spell-checked…

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    3. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Peter Farrell

      Actually some colloquialisms (Umgangssprache) are accepted by some authorities as part of Standard German.

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    4. Christopher Peterson

      Senior Lecturer

      In reply to Pamela H.

      SInce your examples are sentence fragments, I can't tell which is right or wrong. In any case, the I/me distinction has nothing to do with nationality. The following are both correct:

      "She gave the candy (oops, I mean lollies) to me and my friend.
      "My friend and I were given some candy/lollies."

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    5. Christopher Peterson

      Senior Lecturer

      In reply to Paul Rogers

      Rising inflection is not exclusively American. And despite the NBC site's association of upspeak with Southern California, I'm an American who lived in California for over 10 years before moving to Sydney. I occasionally get mistaken for Irish, which I think has to do with adopting a rising inflection that is quite common in Sydney, but whose origins are not clear.

      http://dialectblog.com/2011/05/23/belfast-upspeak/

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    6. Peter Farrell

      teaching-principal at at a small rural school

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Read it. Very interesting.

      Went OK too, no loss of understanding until the very last part. I had to slow down a bit there. Although by that time there would have been some five years of engagement with the idea not just five minutes like I used.

      I really like the implementation - as I said the only part that really bothered me was the re-introduction of C to now be a TH sound. I suppose it reduces redundancy of part of the keyboard.

      It would not take too long for Microsoft to commission the development of such a phonetic dictionary. I was thinking here that not only could people learning to spell use the dictionary, but those of us who learnt to spell the old way could reformat our documents into universal fonetik English.

      Just bringing the idea forward a half a century or so. Auto-correct functions in devices pick up on phonetic spelling? Sometimes clumsily.

      Thanks for the link.

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    7. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Farrell

      Great innit?

      You gotta read the whole thing in order to read its title.

      I first came across it about 45 years ago in an SF anthology when I was at school.

      I didn't see it again for thirty years, then I went looking for it on the internet.

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  38. Peter Walton

    Librarian at Information Works

    Interesting article. However, Rob, there is no such non-standard variety of English as 'Yorkshire Scouse'. There is either Scouse, spoken predominantly in Liverpool/Merseyside (thus 'a scouse git' is a friendly term for someone from Liverpool); or there is Tyke, spoken in Yorkshire, although more often people refer to it as 'Broad Yorkshire'.

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Peter Walton

      You're absolutely right. There is a comma missing between the words "Yorkshire" and "Scouse". They are both part of that longer list. Sorry for not picking up that one.

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  39. Haydon Dennison

    Student

    Resistance to language is every bit as inevitable as the change itself. Any group which has its way of doing things replaced by the way of another is quite reasonably going to get annoyed about it. It is this resistance which prevents the language deviating too far from what we deem acceptable.

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  40. Pete Polkinghorne

    Self Employed Barista

    Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to enjoy the banter.

    I guess I am a purist at heart and like to see correct spelling, grammar and prononciation. I am, after all, a product of the ruler across the knuckles education generation.

    From my perspective, the U.S. American machine (media, entertainment, technology (IT especially), communications, instruction manuals, etc.) is probably one of the greatest influential factors on the global english language. The local influence, it appears, stems…

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    1. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Pete Polkinghorne

      Pete Polkinghorn,

      As far as US media influence goes. The most popular television program in the world was a BBC production called 'Follow Me'.

      It was a series of instructional programs on English, shown world wide, and it garnered an audience of 100 million plus in China.

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    2. Pete Polkinghorne

      Self Employed Barista

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris Harpe,

      Thank you. That is most interesting. I have not heard of that programme.

      My endeavour was not to nominate the one influence, but the collective. I do take your point.

      It is lamentable that such programmes are not engaged in place of so-called reality TV.

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    3. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Pete Polkinghorne

      "Interestingly, I have not observed comment from journalists - really, wordsmithing is their profession - in this forum."
      Quite very very wrong. Most journalists (especially those under thirty) are semi-literate. It is their sub-editors who are the real wordsmiths.

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  41. Paul Rogers

    Manager

    I suspect there is one US language influence that we should seriously discourage; and that is the tendency of some Americans to say (Australia) Ostrayleeya rather than Ostraylya, or even Ustraylya, (but not Orstraylya as the Queen seems to say). There should be no extra syllable at the end of the word.

    Consider Shane Warne speak as an example.

    Even the ABC has succumbed to this at times and with certain announcers, about which I have formally complained.

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  42. Michael Glass

    Teacher

    Instead of rabbiting on about which spelling is Australian or American what about simply accepting the easier spelling?

    In my humble opinion, this would mean accepting the following:

    ise spellings instead of worrying about ise/ize distinctions
    or instead of our spellings
    accepting the single-l spelling in traveller etc.
    practice and licence for both noun and verb
    jail instead of gaol

    In most, but not all cases this would mean following the American spellings, but so what! They are, after all, majority shareholders in the language.

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  43. James Hill

    Industrial Designer

    The "Americans" can destroy the English language as much as they like, as long as the destroy "cricket", while they are at it.
    Doing the world a favour.

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    1. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to James Hill

      Why would you wan't cricket destroyed? It is so easily avoided if you don't happen to like it yourself.

      It is a sport that provides employment to many thousands and pleasure to many dozens of people around the world.

      To wish it destroyed seems somewhat harsh.

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    2. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Paul Miller

      Merely, Paul, to free Australians from their enslavement to idiocy, before it is entirely too late to save them from the consequences.
      A harsh but higher purpose, and that would be to ease our entry into Asia as anything other than Lee Kwan Yu's prophecy as the region's "poor w--te trash".
      The playing and worshipping of cricket seems to be a great, yawning cultural gulph between us and them.
      A very dangerous game in our present circumstances.
      (Only half-joking).

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    3. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to James Hill

      Rightly or wrongly, cricket seems to be perceived by non-playing countries as a relatively sophisticated game - I think they hold images of quaint English village green games with players all in bright white surrounded by vicars and a smartly turned out audience sipping tea on the boundary.

      An affection for cricket can easily be passed off as a delightful eccentricity as we seek to assert our place in the region. Certainly not a cause for any PWT appellation.

      AFL on the other hand.....

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    4. Pete Polkinghorne

      Self Employed Barista

      In reply to James Hill

      I like cricket!

      While it lacks gladiatorial bloodlust, it provides me with a source of relaxation not found in baseball (a World series championship where only one country competes), basketball (just not me), grid-iron (apparently an American form of football where there is just one person with the responsibility of kicking the ball).

      Cricket has two teams (limit of 12 per side) who all participate in engaging the opposing team - unlike some other (apparent) sports that require separate teams for off-enss and dee-fenss, specialist players for one thing or another (see grid-iron) and, a cast of numerous spares.

      I agree with Mr. Miller ... If you don't wish to watch it, watch something else. It is, after all, down to individual taste and it is only right that there is something for everyone.

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    5. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Yes true, but my point was the India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (and I think Afghanistan) are very keen on cricket. India will have a billion people fairly soon. So there is a common cultural interest there.

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    6. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Pete Polkinghorne

      Just as long as people don't do a Cory Bernardi, and insist that there is only one sport worthy of national adulation for those who wish to call themselves Australian.
      That American version of cricket, Baseball, seems to be making an inroad among young people, who find it faster and more exciting.
      As with language, so with sport, to get back to the article.
      Hope that the nightmares induced by such a prospect are not too harrowing for the national psyche.

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    7. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      And so the point is made about their economic success compared to the non-cricket playing parts of Asia.
      Cricket is to blame!!
      Certainly, the English language is not the distinction.
      Though, to be more discriminating, perhaps the climate has an effect upon the popularity of the sport in the former British dominated parts of Asia.

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    8. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Paul Miller

      If cricket did not exist, J R Tolkien would have had to invent it.
      So very Shire.
      So very not Australian.

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    9. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to James Hill

      Baseball is a British game, regardless of what the Americans think, and the first cricket international was played between American and Canadian teams.

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    10. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Could be even worse ... baseball as it is now called could be Canadian ... were this to leak into the public consciousness no doubt the popularity would plummet accordingly. Beachville June 4, 1838.

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    11. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to James Hill

      There are more ESL and native English speakers in India and Pakistan than native speakers in the US. India is doing quite well economically in spite of the cricket.

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    12. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      Hasn't the Indian domination of cricket grown so large that they were able to kybosh a certain former Australian PM from holding high position in the sport, on the basis of perceived, ( rightly or wrongly) racism?
      Indian journalism, in English, does seem to be remarkably superior to the English and Australian varieties.
      Didn't seem to rate a mention in the article.
      Something of an oversight?
      (We can only frolick so far into the joys of the game, without becoming totally off-topic).

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    13. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to James Hill

      India is so large and important that they can dominate effortlessly. However, things to come...

      China has approaching 800 teams right now. It has the declared intention of creating a pool of 20,000 players by 2015, and gaining test status by 2020.

      India will have competition.

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    14. Cory Zanoni

      Community Manager at The Conversation

      In reply to James Hill

      I go to lunch and an article about language turns to cricket and sport. What have you done?!

      I appreciate the attempt to get things back on track.

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    15. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      The sleeping dragon awakes, and it is wielding a cricket bat.
      Haven't they seen what happened to the "English" empire?
      Embracing the seeds of doom while also embracing the language.
      I thought they were supposed to be "communist".
      Apparently the disease entered into Scotland when an English garrison looking after French prisoners of war during the Napoleonic war started playing cricket with their wards.

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    16. James Hill

      Industrial Designer

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      So the Americans will have some competition in dominating the English language, some time soon?

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    17. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Cory Zanoni

      Yes like herding cats this community management business ... wandering off in all directions if left to their own devices.

      So herewith pedants, padagogues and pundits, a new year seasonal gift ... next time you are trapped with distant (but not nearly distant enough) rellies during the festive season watching cricket ... throw them some excruciatingly tedious insights gleaned from this handy guide to the origins of terms employed in Godzone game .... http://www.nettiteatteri.com/mts/apu/Field_positions_Terms_and_Expressions.htm

      If nothing else it might ensure you are spared such torture next time around... but failing that you can reciprocate the boredom.

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    18. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to James Hill

      James Hill,

      You said: "So the Americans will have some competition in dominating the English language"

      There are about 100 million English speakers in India, ranging from 'speakers' to completely fluent. In addition to this there are about 200 million who can nut their way through a passage of English writing.

      You can't complete higher education without being fluent, because instruction is in English, nor do you have any prospect of achieving anything bar minor positions in business, civil…

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    19. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Not just "middle class" hindi homes Chris ... like most languages with deep roots hindi has issues with the new ... things for which there aren't words in the sanskrit derived classical tongue... so they borrow or pinch it - usually from English ... and when Indians borrow something it stays borrowed - so you find families with the surname Engineer, Telegrapher or Mechanic.

      There's another aspect of English too that arises from the fact that until the English, India didn't exist and was a collection…

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    20. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter,

      I wasn't talking about words, or even phrases, being adopted. True code switching can occur only when all parties to the conversation are fluent in all languages used.

      I said middle class because that is where you find the overwhelming majority of people who can do it. In fact, it is something of a class indicator.

      You are right about the other tongues spoken as well. There is a tendency for non Hindi speakers to learn English by preference as an act of rebellion against the Hindi dominance.

      As for Hinglish, try Singlish as well. I have listened to conversations between Singaporeans with otherwise superb English skills, and not had a clue why they kept looking at me and laughing. I won't say it could as well have been Dutch, because with Dutch I might have had a better chance of understanding.

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  44. David Sisson

    Gadfly

    Thanks for the entertaining article, I agree with most of it, but I guess it was designed to be a bit provocative.

    But if you really want to throw a cat among the pigeons (so to speak), how about an article discussing preferences for using words derived from Anglo-Saxon English over those derived from Anglo-Norman French and Latin. That would be an interesting read. ;)

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to David Sisson

      You really think people would be interested in that? It's something I teach about in one of my uni courses. Most of that happened so long ago, it's just part of the language we've inherited it.
      I guess perhaps a real language purist should argue for us to speak English as it was around 1000AD, before the Norman invasion :)
      When I'm working with actors on classical text like Shakespeare, I often get them to tune into the different connotations between generally synonymous Anglo-Saxon vs Latinate words, and how they can "feel different to say", if that makes sense.

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    2. David Stein

      Businessman

      In reply to Rob Pensalfini

      Rob,
      Sounds fascinating. Many people are interested in the etymology of English and would love to learn more about both cultural and historical influences on language. Not to mention historical pronunciation. Perhaps certain words were adopted to the language due to ease of pronunciation, others for reasons of fashion and trend (such as the influence of technology nowadays), or even as a result of shifting borders.
      As an American Australian I haven't put my two cents in to this discussion for…

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    3. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to David Stein

      I support the motion (moved David Sisson, seconded David Stein) for another piece on Anglo Saxon vs French and Latin words in English. You could examine the appropriateness of Fowler's admonition to always prefer the short Anglo Saxon over the long French and Latin. Anglo Saxon may struggle for a word for 'computer', but I'm sure you'll guide us thru that.

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    4. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Rob Pensalfini

      Youy said: "I guess perhaps a real language purist should argue for us to speak English as it was around 1000AD, "

      And reverse the great vowel shift as well? Although that was a native phenomenon, not a foreign imposition.

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    5. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Chris Harper

      I have often wondered about the changing pronunciation of words over time.
      "Blow, blow, thou winter wind // Thou art not so unkind"
      Clearly, in Shakespeare's time, those line endings rhymed, but any attempt at rhyming them now just sounds odd.

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    6. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Doug Hutcheson

      Or Shakespeare wasn't beyond stretching a rhyme to near breaking point Doug... although from my very rusty memory "wind" was spelled (sort of phonetically) as "winde" not that they pronounced the e but I suspect it suggested greater emphasis on the "nd" bit.

      I'd also have one of my accursed hunches (Richard III style) that he was more prone to stretching the elastic rhyme when the work was to be read rather than said ... though not in this case obviously. The hunch also suggests a much more consonant-dominant pronunciation in keeping with the German roots. We tend to rhyme predominantly on vowels these days.

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    7. David Sisson

      Gadfly

      In reply to Rob Pensalfini

      Yep, personally I tend to prefer Anglo-Saxon (and on rare occasions Anglo-Norse) derived words over French or Latin derived words, but not to the point of being silly, so I say that I eat beef, not cow.

      I also like shorter more direct phrasing, perhaps through reading Fowler's books like 'Modern English Usage' and Orwell's essay as a teenager.

      These days I mostly write reports for companies or mountain history articles as a hobby, so I'm well outside academic circles (although I do occasionally proof read, edit and index books). So I'd really enjoy friendly and intelligent, (but not too heavily academic), articles on both the use of Anglo-Saxon vs Latinate words and on the sort on the sort of issues that Fowler and Orwell were addressing.

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    8. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to David Sisson

      Well said David, although I've always much preferred to just proofread [or proof-read] articles as opposed to proof read them, especially so those *on the sort on the sort* of issues that Fowler and Orwell were addressing, as proof that I'd actually read them through and through and through with the indefatigable intent of making any corrections should the need "a_rise". :^)

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    9. David Sisson

      Gadfly

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      Whoops. I've always maintained that no one can properly proofread their own work, at least not for a few days after they originally wrote it. My previous post is a perfect example of that. ;)

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    10. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to David Sisson

      David, I'm always tempted to include an accidently-on-purpose error in my comments when I attempt to correct another edito..err..commenter's error[s], if only to ensure that *Muphry's[sic] Law* (Wiki) lives on, but then my spelling it as "Muphry" instead of Murphy can be taken to automatically obviate any need of my doing so this time around.

      If only I didn't notice my glaring errors until several days later because I always spot the blighters upon my either having just hit 'send' or when the page has refreshed. I must return this large bottle of 'liquid paper' and get a refund after complaining convincingly to the retailer that it just doesn't seem to dry quickly enough on my laptop's screen.

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  45. CH Soames

    Cytogeneticist

    All these points may be valid. But when some US-made spellchecker tells me that the way I've spelt 'realise' all my life is wrong, my haemoglobes still reach boiling point. Every time some troglodyte tells someone 'your a moran dude' or similar I get just a hair closer to advocating capital punishment.
    It's not so much a question of nationalism, though it has to be somewhat ruefully admitted that that's a factor: it's the sheer scale of the slaughter of [what some of us know as] the language through…

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    1. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to CH Soames

      CH Soames,

      You said: "I can live with being called a pedant "

      When someone calls you a pedant you can make their blood steam just by replying, in an innocent and curious tone of voice - "So you acknowledge I'm right then?"

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    2. Pete Polkinghorne

      Self Employed Barista

      In reply to CH Soames

      Mr Soames,

      Thank you sir!

      You are a true good Vegemite.

      Please run for Parliament. I want to vote for you.

      And, if I may say:
      Maths,
      Jam,
      Tomato sauce
      Footpath,
      Dunny,
      The Left hand side of the road

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    3. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      Absolutely Alan - there's always more room aboard for rectitude. One must grasp whatever small opportunities one can find to lift standards and clamber up the moral molehill of superior usage.

      I'd imagine that a proper pedant would be driven to deranged distraction with the sheer workload imposed by the interweb ... luckily I have been able to trim back my vigilance to a few pet pedantic points. But with those I am utterly unmerciful.

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    4. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Good for you Peter. It's always heartening to know that you're still keeping on t_op'inionative of things. It's all I can do but to strive at being gl_ut'terly p_un'merciful my end I'm afr_aid'e-de-camp.

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  46. Chris Colenso-Dunne

    logged in via email @hushmail.com

    Surprised since this is about language that nobody has pointed out that language is scrawled, typed and read, spoken, sung, chanted, recited and listened to, and that the effect of language on the reader or listener depends on the mode and the locutor, as much as on dialect.

    The comments I've read here are principally about language written by someone else, that you or I then read, or hear spoken by actors who have memorised a script. In fact, for most folks, they spontaneous language they hear is likely weightier than the language they read, let alone the language they themselves try to write. What we hear is more than just words and syntax. It includes accent, intonation, delivery, projection and tone. Anyone who listens to Philip Adams, Clint Eastwood or Winston Churchill will be equally entranced.

    Last but not least, the imperative that 'you must not tell someone else what they can say or write' is logically absurd.

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  47. MC Loven

    hitchhiker

    It _is_ a matter of ruining it. "Executive produced by", "wrote him", "medalled", "_could_ care less"; it isn't a matter of culture, unless their culture includes an obnoxious celebration of successfully imposing a deranged lack of logic upon the world. The syntax suggests that it very much is.

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    1. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to MC Loven

      who'd say "executive produced by" when "executive production by" is at hand? i couldn't care less about the others ;-) -a.v.

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  48. Sam Quigley

    logged in via email @outlook.com

    Open-set en dashes are the correct punctuational choice for indicating pauses in headings ... or are they?

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    1. Paul Rogers

      Manager

      In reply to Sam Quigley

      Yes, I suspect so. I would favour/favor the spaced en.The ellipsis is usually used formally for implied omissions, but in less formal writing like novels it is used widely to suggest a pause or break in speech.

      BTW, try wrapping your head around spaced or unspaced ellipsis (ellipses?) and even the formal typesetting character for an ellipsis.

      Probably depends on your stylesheet to some extent.

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  49. Comment removed by moderator.

  50. Gordon Angus Mackinlay

    Clinical Psychologist

    I do not think you have to worry about American English, with the population explosion by illegal migration and massive birth rate within the USA, el Norte America Espanol with be the first language of 50% > of the population by 2065!

    In the past week a programme on SBS on El Paso (EL Chuco) in Texas, with the city and county having 800K plus population, of whom 82%> only speak Spanish in their daily activities. The city now not having English language, TV, radio or newsprint, and it is the language…

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    1. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Gordon Angus Mackinlay

      Gordon,

      You said: "el Norte America Espanol with be the first language of 50% > of the population by 2065"

      That is what some are claiming, but it is somewhat questionable.

      Latinos are going the same way as other immigrant populations. The first generation speaks their native language at home and, where possible, outside. The second generation speaks it at home, but speak English outside. The third generation speaks English in the home.

      People will continue to need English in academia…

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    2. Gordon Angus Mackinlay

      Clinical Psychologist

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Mr Harper,
      Unfortunately your premise that future generations will speak English is not shown by the actual situation in the USA.

      Some years ago I did a course at UCLA and this very subject brought up, and the fact brought out was quite emphatically that those coming from the Southern parts of the America Continent do not assimilate in the main.

      The Hispanic underground in which so many illegals live totally reinforces this, and you have Hispanics of this illegal community third or fourth…

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    3. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Gordon Angus Mackinlay

      German speakers from the former East Prussia etc would not be regarded as speaking hoch Deutsch (aka Schriftsprache or standard German). They speak dialects. The Swiss Germans speak a variant of hoch Deutsch, but only in formal or business contexts. Otherwise they speak mostly unintelligible dialects of schweitzer Deutsch which vary enormously from canton to canton and are in some cases not mutually understandable. The Swiss always speak English to non-German English speakers regardless of the foreigner's degree of German fluency. I agree that German is much more 'mixed up' than English.
      David Irving's translations of German historical documents have been very strongly criticised by other historians for his selective and tendentious readings of the texts (not his translating ability).

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    4. Gordon Angus Mackinlay

      Clinical Psychologist

      In reply to David Theodor Roth

      I am afraid Mr Roth you have misinterpreted my intent re Hoch Deutsch, " When relating to governmental and legal documentation pre-1960's, it can be quite unintelligible for speakers (and readers) of Modern German."

      Not discussing the actual spoken language, which as stated is quite different, like French Canadian's from Quebec, whose French language today is unintelligible to those from the Republic of France.

      In relation to Modern German, Germans throughout the Nation have regional accents…

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    5. David Theodor Roth

      Postgrad History Student

      In reply to Gordon Angus Mackinlay

      Mr Mackinlay, I am of part-German descent, so I am well aware of local dialects and accents (my father spoke Berlinerisch) and the unintelligibility of 'foreign' Germans. As you say, there are not only regional dialects, but Stadtsprache, or city and town dialects. In Frankfurt, there are 9 Hessich dialects from the region plus many Germans from all over, so it's necessary to speak some sort of standard German at work. I was disagreeing with your characterisation of East Prussians etc as speakers…

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  51. ann moffatt
    ann moffatt is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    what i'd like to know is when does a word that is patently 'corrupt' become accepted into our language as being the 'correct' word to use?

    in australia, i hear 'punkin' for pumpkin, the 'medium' strip for the median strip, and 'advocado' for avocado. i can quote many others.

    can any one enlighten me?

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to ann moffatt

      Never!

      I've just been reading some colloquial US English and scattered throughout was "dint" ... I've only just worked out he meant "didn't".

      A mix of deafness and illiterate ignorance really ... a lazy tongue ... but one of my favourites is a pure local I think ... "punkyin". Should be a law. Summfink is pretty impressive too.

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  52. Andy Cameron

    Care giver

    "Many people in England will never forgive the world for allowing the sun to set on the British Empire – and will certainly never forgive the USA for being a more powerful nation than the UK."
    Stuff and nonsense! Please identify these "many people".

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  53. alfred venison

    records manager (public sector)

    its not just the americans who are driving unpremeditated change in the official language.

    1/ sbs reporter in egypt : 4 july 2013 : " ... people here are worried * * what can happen in the next days".

    2/ (senior) abc reporter in canberra : 7 september 2013 : " ... awaiting kevin rudd, on what is likely to be his last day *of* prime minister".

    3/ abc reporter sydney : 17 july 2013 : " ... the committee is expected to recommend *illegalising* sterilisation without court approval…

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  54. John Coulter

    Retired

    Surely the point is that language should be a clear and precise means of communication for as many people as possible. If accepted then the dropping of the 'u' out of harbour or honour is irrelevant.
    It is a pity however when a word which has a unique and precise meaning is misused such that we lose a very useful word. This has nothing to do with America but perhaps with our own sloppiness. Such a word is 'disinterested' when the speaker means 'uninterested'. Without some circumlocution there is…

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    1. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to John Coulter

      Yes, there are increasing instances of prepositions being used differently, altho I wouldn’t characterise that as misuse. My current watch is ‘in relation to’, which is used extensively by lawyers, and ‘around’ instead of the relevant preposition. Examples are: ‘Any act in relation to the lease . . .’ (about) and ‘There was much discussion around the concept . . . ‘ (of).

      I initially deplored what I considered to be lazy imprecision, but upon reflection I’m starting to think these may be useful simplifications of the language. Why have all those specific prepositions when a simple omnibus preposition can express the same meaning? Still, it will be a while before I use them myself and I still correct (change) them in papers I edit.

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  55. Chris Harper

    Engineer

    You said: "Many people in England will never forgive the world for allowing the sun to set on the British Empire – and will certainly never forgive the USA for being a more powerful nation than the UK."

    Stuff and nonsense.

    In 23 years living in the UK I met one person, once, who gave a toss about that stuff.

    Sure, I met many children of Empire, born in Kenya, Ghana, British Honduras, and on and on, but their parents packed up, came home, and got on with their lives.

    Go to the UK now, and no one cares, in the slightest.

    As for not forgiving the USA, again, they don't care. You are confusing them with the French. They are the people who are pi***d off with the Americans for acting in the manner that so many French government types seem to think only the French are entitled to adopt.

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Chris Harper

      You have a point.

      Actually most of the folks I have met with this attitude do not live in the UK but are English expats living in either the US or Australia.

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  56. Andrew Zolnai

    logged in via Facebook

    What a US-centric view of the world... The Brits are not at all bothered the the US overtook them globally. If you read your history from a non-US view, you'd know it's not that you gained your independence, it's that Britain had less interest in troublesome colony, when East India was making money hand-over-fist for them. And don't get me going on the fact that the French won your independence for you by breaking the Yorktown blockade. To his credit your own Ben Franklin travelled to Louis XIV court in Versailles to get funding, something your democratic forefathers remember poorly - " fundraising without borders" (as in Médecins Sans Frontières) started before your Constitution LOL

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Andrew Zolnai

      Your comment seems to assume that I'm from the US. I was born and raised in Australia. I got my education at Australian schools and an Australian university. I lived in the USA for six years, at first doing my doctorate there and then working for two years. I have lived in Australia for 90% of my life.

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  57. Chris Harper

    Engineer

    When it comes to defending the purity of English, my favourite expression is as follows:

    ""The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

    --James D. Nicoll

    And frankly, long may it remain so. The last thing I want to see is some sort of English Academy dictating what is and is not proper English.

    My then Ukrainian wife once asked me who was responsible for regulating English, and she just plain didn't believe me when I said no one. She thought I was lying.

    How is this - a list of who regulates which languages: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_language_regulators

    Sad, isn't it?

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  58. Jane Middlemist
    Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

    citizen

    I read somewhere that we usually have difficulty remembering, accurately, events or experiences in the pre-verbal stages of our lives. The author, a psychologist, thought that people need language to describe things to themselves - in words - in order to remember them. In a strange way,I've been using this little factoid (sorry purists) to help myself remember e.g. repeating to myself a few times; "don't forget to buy milk", before setting off to the shops. It has definitely improved my performance in remembering things like that, especially if there are distractions on the way.

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  59. Paul Cally

    Professor of Solar Physics at Monash University

    I use -ize regularly. It has been used in British English for hundreds of years, and is the preferred spelling of the OED. We are too quick to call it "American" simply because it is also used there.

    I do object to being asked to "deplane" on landing at an American airport though.

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    1. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Paul Cally

      I agree on 'deplane': we seem to be losing alight and disembark. I also object to Qantas and Virgin calling me a 'customer' when I think of myself as a passenger.

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    2. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Paul Cally

      I never realised (oops that's how I've always spelled it) that it actually is accepted in many written varieties of British English. Academic journals published in the UK all say "standard british usage" but they differ on whether they want the 'ise' or 'ize' forms. It's very interesting.

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    3. Jeffrey Weissel

      Retired

      In reply to Rob Pensalfini

      "-ise," "-ize" --- schmisze.

      Not even the most ardent pro-British English supporter would recommend a spelling of "sise" for the word "size", based on the assertion that it's pronounced the same way. If the "-ise/ize" word is pronounced with a buzz rather than a hiss use "-ize," else "-ise."

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    4. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Jeffrey Weissel

      Despite the Americans prefering -ise, I have always been under the impression that both -ise and -ize are generally acceptable to the rest of us.

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    5. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Jeffrey Weissel

      Many Americans persist in calling Aussies "Ossies" instead of "Ozzies". We know that they can say OZ because that's where Dorothy went to meet the Wizard, and the word Aussie pre-dates The Wizard of OZ by many a year. We live in hope that one day every American will pronounce the letter 'Z' as Zed and not Zee, because Zee sounds too much like a 'C'. Too many times I've heard Americans having to repeat themselves with their Zees when spelling out a word to an Aussie or a Brit when if they just said Zed instead then there'd be no miscommunication.

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  60. Alan Hopgood

    logged in via Facebook

    Fortunately, unlike French, the English language isn't regulated. This allows it to evolve and meet the demands of the vast numbers who speak it. Whoever speaks it as a native owns it. I'm English, and for better or for worse, I've adopted Americanisms. Such as "I guess", for "I suppose", "OK", "gay", "program" and "guys". Others I steadfastly refuse to adopt, such as "curb" for "kerb", a different spelling knows we're talking about a part of the road and not a limitation. Other non-American changes also seem to be unstoppable, like the Irish pronunciation of the letter "H" as "haitch", instead of "aitch". Well that just sounds a bit infantile but it's even taught in British schools now. It's all evolution though and there can be no right or wrong about it. That's the beauty of English, it adapts.

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    1. Jane Middlemist
      Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      citizen

      In reply to Alan Hopgood

      One only has to read (or try to read) Chaucer's Canterbury Tales to realise how much language evolves with time. In first year Eng. Lit. at uni the lecturer actually read the first few lines aloud - sounded like a foreign language. I get perverse pleasure, from reciting bits to young members of the family and watching their dazed expressions.

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  61. Garry Claridge

    Systems Analyst

    For me, ARLS (American Reduced Language Set) is creating a restriction of expressive description. I.E. less words and hence less accuracy or fine-implication to a discourse is possible.

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  62. Chris Harper

    Engineer

    Well, the one thing that has become clear here, if nothing else, provided we stay off the topics of:

    Global Warming,
    Tony Abbott,
    Julia Gillard,
    Kevin Rudd,
    Marxism,
    Islam,
    Free speech and media control,

    It really is quite possible to have a civilised conversation here at The Conversation.

    But then, who wants to ignore those topics all the time?

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  63. Paul Burns

    Historian

    Re the Maths v. Math debate. I might be absolutely wrong here. There used to be when I was a kid at school, Maths I and Maths II. Maths I was arithmetic, etc., and algebra etc., etc., and Maths II was geometry, or as it sometimes used to be quaintly called in 19C textbooks, Euclid, who was blamed for inventing the stuff.

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  64. Paul Burns

    Historian

    a.v..
    Tis me, indeed.
    Mostly my comments on The Conversation so far have been terse one-liners, but if I get into my stride I might be as expansive as I have been elsewhere.
    And language, as you know, is one of my obsessions.
    See you round.
    For the rest of you good to "meet" you all.
    God! [sighs] Grammar!

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Stephen Ralph

      Proper words in proper places make the true definition of style.
      - Jonathan Swift

      True ease in writing comes from art, not chance
      As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
      - Alexander Pope

      What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.
      - Samuel Johnson

      Obscurity in writing is commonly a proof of darkness in the mind.
      - John Wilkins

      and lastly,

      The life of the journalist is poor, nasty, brutish and short.
      So is his style.
      - Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm

      All filched unmercifully from the Beeb's style guide: http://www2.media.uoa.gr/lectures/linguistic_archives/academic_papers0506/notes/stylesheets_3.pdf

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  65. Beverley Simmons

    Ex Promotions Manager. Retired.

    Looking at the comments thus far I feel that contributors are trying to be specific about the degree of influence from the identified sources, such as USA, Australia, various authors and poets-both old and new etc. etc.When the reality is that all of are having an IMPACT (effect) all of the time.The most annoying factor for me is the laziness of those who speak and broadcast the English language. For example; most of the soaps and, and its a big AND, football players who, when interviewed, mispronounce…

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    1. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Beverley Simmons

      "We have a situation in which we not only have double negatives and sentences ending in a prepositions, together with split infinitives plus other factors"

      The 'rules' you cite above are essentially artificial rules that do little to enhance communication. They may have been important for coherent discourse in Latin but they have little relevance to modern English - there is nothing intrinsically wrong with splitting an infinitive providing meaning is not impeded.

      "we also have anew collection of words such as; fawt (thought) fink (think) nufink (nothing) vis (this) vat (that) vose (those) be'er (better)"

      None of these are 'new words', these are simply sloppy or perhaps dialectical renderings of existing words - some of which can be traced back to the time of Chaucer.

      As for the genuine new words (such as 'chav' that you mention), all I can say is 'bravo' that the language is fresh and energetic and continuing to grow.

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  66. Doug Hutcheson

    Poet

    My pedantry is based on what I was taught - and judged (marked) on at school. Any deviation into what I was punished for, way back then, goes against the grain, but my grasp of English is largely based on what was current in the 1960s and I really should be more tolerant of changes adopted over the years.
    Just as I don't understand Chaucer, I don't understand African American rap, but that does not make either form 'unEnglish'. Despite knowing this cerebrally, I still get enjoyment from growling at the telly when a newsreader says 'different to', instead of 'different from'. Sigh.

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  67. Chris Davie

    Solicitor

    I agree that it's largely a matter of taste, but to me the American penchant for creating more complicated versions of perfectly good words - like "issuance" instead of "issue" - is one we should not encourage.

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  68. Rhana Pike

    writer and editor

    It's not surprising that 'Standard British is actually the innovative, the newer form'. In my experience working in scientific publishing internationally, the American approach to language is much more prescriptive or rule-driven than the British, which could lead to US English being more conservative.

    Most people interested in English, wherever they are, defend the spelling and usage they were taught and will slowly accept changes when they become accustomed to them (me included). My grandmother railed against the ugly Americanism 'truck' when the correct word was 'lorry'.

    Issues like the singular 'they' and prepositions at the end of sentences are debated just as much in the US as here in Australia. 'Impact' as a verb, everywhere, seems to be a fallback for people not confident about spelling 'affect' (as mentioned by an earlier poster).

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  69. Trevor Marshallsea

    rocket scientist

    As an Australian who was once looking to find a stores where I could buy a second-hand guitar in a small US town, I felt the pain of the aforementioned pawn/porn conundrum. Sorry to the little old ladies who kept thinking I was some kind of pervert when asking if they knew of any such stores.

    The question of ruining the language is a great font of debate. I just think it's sad that the country leading the war on terror is the country which is not physically capable of pronouncing it!

    Goddamn that turr.

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    1. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Trevor Marshallsea

      Yes, heavens to Betsy, there's just too many turrists about these days. We best keep our eyes peeled c'OZ' those danged varmints can plumb turrn up at any time. They really need to rest up a mite and take a durrned good look at 'emselves in the meerr.

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  70. Gavin Moodie
    Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Adjunct professor at RMIT University

    What about biscuits? When I search for these in my local supermarket I first find biscuits and then have to distinguish between sweet and savory. There's no such need in Toronto, and presumably the US. If I want sweet biscuits I look for cookies and if I want savory biscuits I look for crackers. Might this modest distinction be useful, even to the Yanks are destroying the joint folk?

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    1. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      do canadians still say "figure" where australians say "reckon"? as in "i figure he's going to ask her out this time" vs. "i reckon he's going to ask her out this time". when i came to australia last century the difference was striking; no one here "figured", everyone "reckoned". -a.v.

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    2. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to alfred venison

      I don't know what Canuks say for expectation (figure or reckon). I've been here only since December 11. I've been very careful not to assume that Canada is like the US, but for an Aussie expat Canada is much more like the US than Australia. So I'd expect they adopt the US usage.

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    3. Mitch McCrimmon

      Management Consultant at Self Renewal Group

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Being a Canadian, I can help you here. We say 'figure' not 'reckon' for the most part. We just returned to Canada in 2006 after living in the UK for 20 years and, you are right, Canada is very American in many ways. However, I grew up in Canada pronouncing words like 'mobile', 'missile', 'fragile', etc, as if they rhymed with 'smile'. Americans pronounce 'mobile' the same way as they pronounce the name of the oil company - Mobil. Also, for the most part, we also use the same spellings as Brits and Australians for the 'our' vs 'or' words. I see the growing impact of US English, however, as US spellings and pronunciations are much more widespread and accepted here than they were 20 years ago.

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    4. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Mitch McCrimmon

      Thanx Mitch. I spotted the '-our' and '-ize'. I also note that in Toronto we have 'bathroom tissue' rather than toilet paper. But accent I'm finding much more complicated, partly cos I can't pick the US regional accents very well. Presumably accents vary a bit in Canada, by location as well as by class or education.

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    5. Mitch McCrimmon

      Management Consultant at Self Renewal Group

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      The phrase 'bathroom tissue' must be a recent PC 'innovation'. I grew up saying 'toilet paper' and my wife and I still do. However, in Canada, in a shopping mall, you have to ask for the washrooms, not the toilets as in the UK or OZ. In the US, they commonly say 'restrooms'. Visiting someone's home though, you would ask for the 'bathroom.'

      Regarding accents: we are both from the province of Manitoba and, when we moved to Toronto in the early 1980's, we thought that people there sounded very American…

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    6. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Mitch McCrimmon

      Thanx Mitch. I will be interested to explore these and other differences over the next several months and years. Incidentally, I was taken aback by the 'French' spoken by the Québécois: not at all like the French I learned at school and heard in Paris.

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    7. alfred venison

      records manager (public sector)

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      when i first came to australia i had no idea what i would get when someone offered me a "biscuit" or what i might be eating at "tea". worked it out, but. ;-) -a.v.

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  71. Mitch McCrimmon

    Management Consultant at Self Renewal Group

    A phrase my wife often uses is: "It's not the same." I think we all, to one degree or another, resist change. So it is with language changes. I plead guilty! I admit to being a bit pedantic about some uses of language, both British and American. I especially dislike the so-called singular 'they' in writing. I agree with the desire to avoid writing 'he or she' but there are so many alternatives: starting a sentence with they in the first place instead of switching from singular to plural mid stream…

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    1. Mitch McCrimmon

      Management Consultant at Self Renewal Group

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Maybe so but it seems to me to be a lot more common today than 30 years ago. It seems to me to have spread like a virus as so many language changes and fads do over time.

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    2. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Mitch McCrimmon

      Med-sin is as correct a pronunciation of medicine as is its 3-syllable variant, and even with the 3-syllable pronunciation the middle syllable is heavily schwa'd anyway, so why not ditch it altogether? For a predominantly non-rhotic speaker, like your average Aussie, it is always better to start a sentence with "A manager..." instead of "Managers..." for the simple reason that Aussies [and many Brits] pronounce "manages" and "managers" exactly the same.

      Quite a few people say "lenth" for "length…

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  72. Matthew Willis

    Visiting Fellow, The Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University

    Really interesting article, thank you.

    I'm sure one of the linguistically knowledgeable here can settle something that keeps bothering me - one of my roles is to provide advice to different bodies. I have an advisory capacity. In Australian English, am I an Adviser or an Advisor?

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    1. Paul Miller

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Matthew Willis

      As far as I can tell both are quite acceptable in Australian English.

      Possibly because of this there seems to be something of an attempt to invent a rule whereby the giver of advice is considered an 'adviser' who may well have the job title of 'Advisor'.

      I can't recall seeing 'advisor' used much (if at all) in newspaper reports/articles but it will occasionally crop up in employment advertisements.

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    2. Matthew Willis

      Visiting Fellow, The Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University

      In reply to Doug Hutcheson

      @Paul - thanks for your advice; you have been an excellent advisor :-)

      @Doug - a greater use of advisor in your poetic outpourings is clearly called for. There is the challenge for your next piece.

      I think I will treat as for professor and confessor and use Advisor in my advisery capacities.

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  73. Rob Pensalfini

    Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

    This article was published just as I was leaving Rome after three months overseas, and by the time I got home there were over three hundred comments. That's a nice welcome to this site. It's probably a good thing I wasn't 'around' when it went up, as I tend to have a tendency to join in and jump in to conversations, and in fact almost everything I would have said anyway was said by someone or other. I'm glad to have gotten so much conversation going, and I really appreciate the thoughtful comments.
    There is at least one typo, which was my mistake and I didn't pick it up in proofreading. There should be a comma between Yorkshire and Scouse, they are two items in a longer list. I was not meaning to suggest that there is such a variety as "Yorkshire Scouse".
    Thanks for your input, and I'm taking on board some of your suggestions for possible future short articles. x Rob

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  74. Rick Sarre

    Professor in Law at University of South Australia

    Great article, Rob. Another one you might want to comment upon (upon which you might like to comment?) is the adjective used as an adverb. It is rife, especially in US sports broadcasting. "She played aggressive tonight." "Every time he got the puck, he shot true." I can live with all of the examples that you have given, and applaud the simplification of spellings, such as program for programme and accomodation for accommodation (although it is hard to see why Americans have added a second "l" to "enrolment" and another "t" to commitment), but I do like adverbs, and prefer to see them used correctly (used correct?).

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Rick Sarre

      No comment :) Only because I don't watch US sports. I have only come across this in Apple's marketing slogan (now defunct?) "Think different". I like adverbs too. I like to use them. But if someone else wants to put an adjective in its place (as in "How are you? Good." (rather than "well")) - well, as long as it's not in an essay that I'm marking, I'll let it go.
      I also have my own ingrained biases about language use, and I note that I can often think of someone as 'ignorant' or worse for not using language in a way that I was 'raised' to do. However, as a linguist I've learned over the decades that it's important for me not to take my gut feelings about someone's use of language differing from my own as really saying anything about them as a person.

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    2. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Rob Pensalfini

      Nice try Roberto but I challenge you to treat anyone as an equal after they've said anyfing about punkyins. Just not possible.

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    3. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Rick Sarre

      Rick, are you sure that the American sports broadcaster didn't have extra strong Irish roots, either that or he was simply trying to show off with a bit of "Ocker" that he'd picked up from somewhere and actually said instead: "Every time he got the puck, he shot through"?

      I too like to see adverbs used properly because it gives those who are unfamiliar with them the opportunity to know that not only do such things exist but exacty how and when to use them. How many young'uns would go on to be…

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  75. Dean Taylor

    logged in via Facebook

    This article presents a mostly straw man argument. I have never heard of half of these issues being attributed to American English (i.e. issue 3, 4 and 5). To add to that there is the tired, outdated attack of the UK being a colonial nation whereas nowadays it is the US interfering abroad. This chip on the author's shoulder is most evident in the childish last paragraph. I think a language can be degraded when the fineness of its meaning is blunted. This is happening everywhere when a speaker can't be bothered finding a suitable word and substitute "sh*t". An American example is "I could care less". The meaning is the opposite. Complicating the grammar also occurs there with adding an extra preposition or taking one away. For example, "I got off of the bus" or "I wrote her". Here the direct and indirect object and not distinguished.

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    1. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Dean Taylor

      Thanks for the insults, Dean.
      The comments on this post should show that indeed Americans are being blamed for all manner of linguistic egregiousness, whether they orginated it or not. Your last example "I wrote her" is actually found as much in British as in American English.
      I own my biases as someone who has dealt with generational colonial attitudes towards my ethnicity in this country, largely at the hands of expat Poms. I agree that the UK can no longer be seen as a colonising power, but many (not all, perhaps not even most) expat Brits do carry a sense of entitlement when it comes to English. Even outside of that. I was once corrected (wrongly) on the pronunciation of the my parents' home town in Italy by an English couple. They insisted it was pronounced with the stress on a particular syllable, which it is not. This is just one example, but it is typical of what I have encountered in my life.

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    2. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Rob Pensalfini

      Rob, did you happen to notice any change at all in the demeanour of the English couple immediately after they'd 'corrected' your home-grown pronunciation of your parents' home town, and was it in Italy that this 'correction' occurred because that would hugely lend more thrust to their effron..err..efforts? Were their noses suddenly held any higher in the air, and did they seem to have -- just out of the blue -- adopted an extra stylistic swagger in their walk? Good deeds must never go unrecognized Rob...capisce?

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    3. Chris Harper

      Engineer

      In reply to Rob Pensalfini

      Rob,

      We can have legitimate English pronunciations of foreign place names, as opposed to the local pronunciation.

      Rome/Roma, Leghorn/Livorno.

      Could this have been such an example?

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    4. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Chris Harper

      Chris, a mispronunciation that always amuses me was pointed out to me by a Polish friend: our Australian landmark Mt. Kosciuszko should be pronounced something like 'Ko shoe ska'. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Kosciuszko for a sound clip of the correct pronunciation. Our arrogant Anglicisation of foreign words is legendary and insulting, but so ingrained now it is unlikely to be fixed.

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    5. Stephen Ralph

      carer

      In reply to Doug Hutcheson

      Works both ways .....

      I used to work in record shops (remember them). Two examples of language confusion stand out -

      Non Anglo guy comes in and asks for Buddy Wade's Greatest Hits.
      I'd never heard of Buddy Wade - he wanted Barry White's Greatest Hits.

      Non Anglo woman comes in and asks for the Bee Gees Black Album......they don't have one. She wanted Elton John's "The Bitch Is Back".

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  76. Jane Middlemist
    Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

    citizen

    Was it the Americans who started "textese" used on mobile phones?
    About 5 years ago this was investigated in David Crystal's book entitled: "Txting. The Gr8 Db8." Will we all write like that in the near future?
    Heaven forfend!

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    1. Jane Middlemist
      Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      citizen

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      I know it's easy to understand - quite fun really. Nothing wrong in texting per phone. I would find it a bit tedious to read a 500 pp book in textese. So I was thinking: I hope it doesn't gradually become the main style for the written word.

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    2. Gordon Angus Mackinlay

      Clinical Psychologist

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      In the early hours of this morning, I was staggered to see the nurse's report written by a agency nurse in regard to a critical incident relating to a in-patient.

      The bulk of it was "textese", she was extremely miffed when I directed her to rewrite it in the English language. With her stating that at Uni they were allowed to write so (this I would seriously doubt?).

      The whole compounded by her sheer lack of comprehension of the legal significance of writing such a report, with in this case…

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    3. Doug Hutcheson

      Poet

      In reply to Gordon Angus Mackinlay

      OMG! </sarc>
      What a disaster-in-waiting. That someone can graduate without being able to write legibly is an indictment of our misplaced faith in technology. Hand-written notes do not require battery backup and seldom are lost due to a head crash. Imagine if Shakespeare had been given an iPad and was half way through 'Romeo and Juliet' when the operating system failed! Thank whatever deity you prefer that he wrote with quill and ink.

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    4. Rob Pensalfini

      Senior Lecturer, School of English, Media Studies and Art History at University of Queensland

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      I don't know who started it, but I know that mobile phones were much more widely used by the average punter in Australia than in the US when I came back to Australia at the end of the last millennium.
      I think the fear of the entire language being replaced by textese is misplaced. Every year I get at least two calls from journalists asking me to support their notion that texting is "ruining" English. But it's simply a different medium with its own style and register. The telegraph, or the newspaper…

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    5. Jane Middlemist
      Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      citizen

      In reply to Rob Pensalfini

      I think you are right. (I was trying to guess centuries ahead where anything might happen) but children and young people with their creative sense of fun and adventure do seem to set great store by "inventing" new fashions, slang, modes of communication. Major change (e.g. changing from "Chaucer-ese" to 'modernese') take a long time so I'm not too worried about the present/near future. And we all speak, as you say, in accordance with the understanding of our listeners.

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    6. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      Don't be too sure about the speed at which language and pronunciation can change Ms M ... its took less than three decades - a generation - for the proper folks to be deeply aggrieved at the declining standards of civil discourse adopted in the colony of NSW - the nasal twang, the drawl, the use of barbaric rustic terms, the appalling abbreviation of men's surnames, the attachment of sardonic opposites (bluey for folks with red hair, for example) ... 30 years. And they are still with us to this very day. The dialect of street urchins and hooligans.

      It was the kids wot done it - the locally born native sons and daughters - essentially invented their own language from a pidgin of the dialects and brogues that washed up here plus some of what they found ... a mark of difference with the old, the distant and the proper. A new tongue for a new country.

      From the font of all human wisdom: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_English

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    7. Jane Middlemist
      Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      citizen

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      When yer right yer right Mr O. I is curtseyin' to your superior nollidge. I had a gander at the link. Long and detailed innit? My minuscule attention span kicked in again. Actually I was already aware of the gist ( edjerkated by my OZ-born dorter ). I do think 'white' settlement was something of a 'one off' event in orstraya and is happening at a much slower rate these days. But I must admit things have hotted up summink crool since dear Geoffrey's day. I'm sure you'll agree though that a trifle like the loss of proper English is the merest of bagatelles compared to having gained the incomparable Strine.

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    8. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Jane Middlemist

      Udderly MsM ... Gawdzone mode of speech itself.

      You have of course encountered the wonderful Let's Stalk Strine and the second tome by Afferbeck Lauder?

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    9. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Yes, Let Stalk Strine was great, should have won the Noble Prize for literature! Its sequel was Nose Tone Unturned, which Wikipedia informs me is a syncope (for No Stone Unturned).

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    10. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      G'day Gavin - I glean that you are off experiencing the very limited delights of an Arctic Xmas ... deep end of the pool indeed ... still it's amazing how Tony Abbott has stopped all that global warming in its crappy tracks .... he just needs to brush up on his geographic focus a hemisphere or two.

      I think there is an excellent case for DIAC - or whoever "welcomes" our new arrivals these days (not really DIAC's cuppa I'd imagine) should ditch the appalling self-congratulatory handouts made mandatory by Howard and hand out copies of Strine and Nose ... much more accurate and useful.

      I trust common sense will be restored shortly and you will be rejoining our happy hot throng in the near future Mr Adjunct.

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    11. Gavin Moodie
      Gavin Moodie is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Adjunct professor at RMIT University

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Greetings Mr O. I am what the yanks charmingly call a trailing spouse, altho I'm actually a trailing partner and we're in Toronto (which the locals pronounce Torono). I'm partnered to a 5 year contract, renewable, so it seems I'll get to experience more snow flurries, frozen rain, black ice and what ever else passes for global warming up here.

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    12. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Gavin Moodie

      Them Kanuks ... cluttrin arp their lengwich wid xs sillbles ... I grew up near the Orstayan transplant of the same place but here we had the pleasure of calling it Tronno .... I guess there's not much else to do in the blizzards than sit about conjouring up totally unnecessary syllables.

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    13. Jane Middlemist
      Jane Middlemist is a Friend of The Conversation.

      citizen

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Please forgive interruption Mr O. Just wanted to tell Prof. Moodie that I've started on Tim Winton's new novel:' Eyrie'. No syntax so far and, of course when you're Tim Winton you don't need punctuation. It's turning out to be his usual magic. Off to read more. Hope you survive the rigours of global warming / cooling / pausing etc.

      P.S. Or, perchance a tasty sylabub?

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  77. Louise O'Brien

    Marketer.Communicator. Observer

    This topic was bound to be something that many people would write in about.

    Most American companies who operate in Australia have marketing people here who localise the company's collateral for the Australian market including local contact details etc. It is recognised internationally that Australian businesses use British English not American English. Often 'localising' material also means cutting it down so that the material is more succinct and less long winded. People in Australia and the…

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    1. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Louise O'Brien

      You would be one of those young people then Ms O'B who are cluttering the place up of late ... dreadful business.

      We wizened cantankerous types (and Americans) can't see the virtue in having units of measurement that are too small to be seen with the nekkid eye ... and we see less with our wrinkly nekkid eyes than we once did. And no wonder with these teensy weensy little mms getting in the way.

      We resent the fact that our pints of milk have been recalibrated into litres and we always…

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    2. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, I concur with your assertions but for one thing, and it's the American gallon. Surely, but[t] surely, all the gallons of anything and everything that was transported across on the Mayflower all those years ago couldn't all have evaporated equally to being a measure now known to be markedly less a gallon than that of an imperial one. It's only planked vessels having sails that are supposed to sprink a leak in transit as ullage can never feature as a hot topic of conversation when the amount…

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    3. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Allan Gardiner

      Ooooh no Doctor Allan ... I would not regard the US gallon as anything but a degraded measure - a gallon in name only - an artifact of tea party agitation and frontier lawlessness ... the gallon short-changed for the purposes of tax avoidance and clipping both Customs and customers alike. The full (but not full enough obviously) sorry tale can be found here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gallon

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    4. Allan Gardiner

      Dr

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Thanks Peter. All this short-changing has to stop. A fair day's ration of rum [buttered toffees] for a fair day's work I reckon. The American gallon is really no different to what happened in the novel "King Rat?" where the Allied POW officers appointed to "me'trick'ulously" weigh each and every one of their own men's already-very-meagre daily ration of rice had drilled out a portion of the certified brass weights' bases and then covered 'em over with plaster or wax. There's crash diets...and then there's bras_s'hush diets.

      I swear that I always take my every measurement from the very bottom of the much-maligned menis_cus'sed.

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  78. David Theodor Roth

    Postgrad History Student

    My pet hate is the US-inspired tendency for TV documentaries to describe past events in the present tense (the historic present). Perhaps the speakers have forgotten how to use the past perfect, or they are mentally confused or perhaps they live, like God, in an eternal present. In written texts, this usage is even uglier, because switching to the actual present often causes confusion in the reader. Unfortunately, the infection has spread to the ABC and even to some students in our History department. Is the future tense the next victim?

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  79. Michael Affleck

    Librarian

    There is no such thing as English, but there are numerous englishes. Part of the reason why it has been so successful has been its ability to adapt, fragment, absorb and diversify. No-one, anywhere, anytime has ever ruined English, only enhanced and adapted it for their particular culture and circumstances.

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